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Families of 9/11 Victims Testify in Hamburg Trial

Andreas Tzortzis
January 31, 2003

Maureen Fanning, who lost her firefighter husband in the World Trade Center and gave up the autistic son she could no longer care for, recalls her family's tragedy at the German trial of a suspected al Qaeda member.

Maureen Fanning laments the loss of her husband, a New York firefighterImage: AP

HAMBURG -- Maureen Fanning looked at the man suspected of helping murder her husband and felt nothing.

The widow of a New York City firefighter killed in the World Trade Center, Fanning had long ago given up trying to understand the men behind the Sept. 11 attacks that claimed her husband Jack's life at the age of 54.

But she didn't want to miss the opportunity to let the 28-year-old Moroccan -- who German federal prosecutors believe provided logistical expertise to presumed Sept. 11 mastermind Mohammed Atta -- know what sort of damage he and “his friends” had done. And she traveled 3,000 miles to Hamburg to do it -- at her own expense.

“The world has to be protected from the suicidal, murderous inclinations of the defendant and his friends,” she told the judges at Hamburg’s higher regional court on Thursday, pausing as a translator delivered the message in German. “My heart was broken on 9/11, but not my spirit. Until I take my last breath, I will not let this incredible loss of human life go in vain.”

Mounir Motassadeq looked on impassively.

Terror Prozess mit Thumbnail
This courtroom drawing taken during the trial against Mounir El Motassadeq in Hamburg, northern Germany, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2002, shows in foreground the defendant Mounir El Motassadeq and in rear from left the defendant's lawyers Hartmut Jacobi and Hans Leitstritz, the judges Lutz von Selle and Albrecht Mentz. Mounir El Motassadeq is accused of aiding the Hamburg terrorist cell involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/Zeichnung: Juliane Garstka)Image: AP

It was the same reaction he had for each of the five Americans who testified Thursday as representatives of 21 American co-plaintiffs in the trial. The court's seven judges, led by Albrecht Mentz, must determine in these final days of the trial whether Motassadeq (illustration), an electrical engineering student, should spend up to 15 years in prison for his alleged role as an accessory to the murder of more than 3,000 people who died in the attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and on the United Airlines Flight 93 jet that crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Families speak

German law allows for survivors of crimes and relatives of murder victims to join the prosecution as co-plaintiffs in criminal cases. Fanning, Stephen Push, who leads the survivors advocacy group Families of September 11, and 19 other people who lost relatives in the attacks recently signed on to the case.

“To give the trial that personal testimony is essential,” said Andreas Schulz, who is co-representing the majority of the co-plaintiffs in the trial. “This trial was very abstract. You see that nice young Arab student and you can’t connect him to any mujahedeen warriors. You can’t connect him to the 9/11 tragedy.”

Defense attorneys for Motassadeq, in jail since his arrest shortly after the attacks, maintain their client was merely friends with the Hamburg-based al Qaeda sleeper cell and had no knowledge of their plans. But prosecutors are convinced he played a more integral role, taking care of the cell’s financial matters, handling bank accounts and paying some of their bills.

Fanning thinks the same. She didn’t hesitate when Push asked her three weeks ago whether she wanted to come and testify. Thursday marked the first time she laid eyes on Motassadeq, and she was convinced of his guilt.

“He is not a mindless, illiterate, blind or innocent follower,” she said.

At the same time, she doesn’t want to dwell on why he might have done what he’s accused of doing.

“I can’t understanding anyone, or any group that could commit this sort of evil,” she told DW-WORLD in an interview following her testimony. “It doesn’t compute for me.”

What does make sense to her is what she lost. Fanning said her husband was “her hero.” He was as real and genuine as the blue fire department uniform, covered in medals, she brought with her to Hamburg to show the media. She held it up as the cameras flashed and TV crews recorded.

A family divided

Her husband was her partner, she said. The couple, who met skiing in upstate New York more than 15 years ago, worked opposite shifts to care for their two autistic boys.

With Jack gone, Maureen had to put her eldest, 14-year-old Sean, in a group home where he could receive around-the-clock care. She gave up her job as a registered nurse in a New York hospital and has two full-time tutors helping her care for 6-year-old Patrick, who can’t read, write or speak.

The family lives in the home her husband bought in Nassau County and survives on Jack Fanning’s pension and Social Security. Like the other five who testified, Maureen covered the more than $1,000 it cost to fly to and stay in Hamburg for two days out of her own pocket. But now she wants to get back to the kids, who have kept her grounded and focused.

“If the kids are okay, I’m okay,” she said.

She said she spent the three weeks leading up to her court appearance in Hamburg coordinating care, not dwelling on her testimony.

Nicole Deangelis, the daughter of a NYC firefighter who is in the same support group Maureen attends, drove her to the airport before her flight to Germany. “Thanks for representing my Dad,” Deangelis told Fanning as she was about to board the plane. On Thursday in court, she wore a pin that Deangelis had made to honor her dad.

After all, Fanning said, “It’s not just about Jack Fanning, it’s about every single innocent victim, about every family that’s been destroyed. It’s about the world at large.”