First Charges Filed Against Sept. 11 Terrorist in Germany | Current Affairs | DW | 03.09.2002
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Current Affairs

First Charges Filed Against Sept. 11 Terrorist in Germany

Morrocan born Mounir El Motassadeq will face at least 3,116 counts of accessory to murder for his alleged role in helping Mohammed Atta's Hamburg cell plan the Sept. 11 terror attack.

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German Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm announces charges

Close to a year after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, the Federal Prosecutors Office in Germany announced it filed criminal charges this week against a Hamburg man suspected of aiding in the planning and financing of the attacks. The charges are the first against a German member of the terror cell responsible for the attacks.

On Thursday, Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm said the suspect, Morrocan citizen Mounir El Motassadeq, was charged on Wednesday as an accessory to murder in the killings of at least 3,116 people in New York and Washington and for membership in a terrorist organization. Prosecutors believe the 28-year-old student was deeply involved in the Hamburg terror cell led by Mohammed Atta that carried out the deadly attacks.

The case has brought many previously unknown facts about the Sept. 11 attacks to light. Investigators here now believe the terrorist cell had begun planning a major attack as far back as Oct. 1999, and that the World Trade Center first emerged as a possible target in April or May 2000. At the time, Nehm said, hijacker Marwan Al Shehhi told a Hamburg librarian of his intentions.

"There will be thousands of dead, you will all think of me," he reportedly said. Nehm said he also uttered the words "World Trade Center."

A member "right up to the end"

Authorities arrested electrical engineering student El Motassadeq in Nov. 2001, and he has been held in investigative custody since then in a jail in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Nehm said Motassadeq had maintained intensive contacts with the terror cell for several years and also lived in the same neighborhood as the terrorists with his wife and child. Nehm said he believes Motassadeq "remained part of the assassination preparations right up to the end."

Motassadeq played a definitive role in the financing of the Hamburg terror cell's activities, the indictement stated. He held power of attorney over, as well as an automated teller card for, a bank account that had originally been opened by Al Shehhi, one of the terrorists who died in the airplane attacks.

Prosecutor Nehm said the terrorists used the Hamburg bank account to pay for pilot training for Said Bahaji and Zakariya Essabar in the United States. Al Qaeda terrorists also allegedly used the account to pay their expenses while living in the U.S. Both are still on the run from authorities.

Nehm described Motassadeq as a "governor in Hamburg" for the terror cell during the time Atta and others were in taking classes in U.S. flight schools. Additionally, Nehm said, Motassadeq's signature appeared on a testament written by Atta that surfaced after the deadly attacks were carried out.

Training in Afghanistan

Between May and August 2000, prosecutors said, Motassadeq spent time in an al Qaeda terror training camp located near Kandahar in Afghanistan. "In addition to ideological and military traning, such visits were also used by leaders of the international network to discuss and agree on details of attacks and the logistical support needed to carry them out," Nehm said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say they have learned little from statements made by Motassadeq following his arrest, with chief prosecutor Nehm describing his statements as "meaningless." In December, Motassadeq denied any involvement in the attacks' planning as well as membership in al Qaeda.

An attorney representing Motassadeq on Thursday described the 90-page indictment against him as "sparse." A trial against Motassadeq, however, is still on schedule to commence in October.

The birth of a terror cell

In his press conference on Thursday, Nehm also rehashed detailed conclusions drawn by investigators about the origins of the Hamburg terror cell and its members. The group, comprised initially of seven students, came together in Hamburg during the early 1990s. Cell leader Atta, second WTC pilot Al Shehhi and third pilot Ziad Jarrah were all part of the group.

"All of the members of this cell shared the same religious convictions, an Islamic lifestyle, a feeling of being out of place in unfamiliar cultural surroundings," Nehm said. "At the center of this stood the hatred of the world's Jews and the U.S."

Nehm said El Motassadeq had served as a logistician for the terror cell along with three other men who are still being sought by authorities, including Ramsi Binalshibh, Bahaji and Essabar. Neither Bahaji nor Essabar were able to participate in the attacks because immigration officials rejected their visa applications to travel to the U.S.

The group's mission, according to Nehm, was "the militant rejection of Western society and its values and the defense of the Muslim world against non-Muslims, including through terrorist acts, was the basis of the group's activities."

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