Hamburg 9/11 trial drags on
5 January 2005, HAMBURG - The retrial of Mounir al-Motassadeq, the only person ever convicted of assisting the 11 September 2001 attack, will likely drag out to March as both sides sift and re-sift the sparse evidence, lawyers said on Wednesday. The second trial, ordered by an appellate court, has been running five months before a Hamburg superior court, with the 30-year-old Moroccan electronics student free on bail and showing up each hearing day. Both prosecutors and defence counsel agreed in interviews
5 January 2005
HAMBURG - The retrial of Mounir al-Motassadeq, the only person ever convicted of assisting the 11 September 2001 attack, will likely drag out to March as both sides sift and re-sift the sparse evidence, lawyers said on Wednesday.
The second trial, ordered by an appellate court, has been running five months before a Hamburg superior court, with the 30-year-old Moroccan electronics student free on bail and showing up each hearing day.
Both prosecutors and defence counsel agreed in interviews that a February verdict was no longer plausible.
"We haven't even begun to file our procedural motions," said Ladislav Anisic for the defence. Senior federal prosecutor Matthias Krauss said the trial might even run longer, beyond March. The hearings take place on two to three days of every week.
The public gallery at the hearings has been largely deserted in recent weeks as witnesses are grilled about the minutiae of life in Hamburg student hostels and university libraries before 2001.
To prove Motassadeq guilty of membership in Mohammed Atta's Hamburg terrorist cell and of being accessory to 3,000 murders, the prosecutors must at least demonstrate he knew what was going on.
Fellow students have been called to recall various hints of his Islamic fundamentalism. Court observers say some of that evidence has been weakened by doubts as to whether anyone can remember conversations six or seven years ago.
With most of the evidence familiar from the first trial, the defence has also seized on expanded detail in testimony to suggest that it is fiction. The prosecution case largely rests on this circumstantial evidence.
The judges have listened to Motassadeq's Islamist music tapes and read and re-read a jokey postcard from Egyptian-born Hamburg student Atta, the lead plotter, to Motassadeq, hoping it will illuminate his guilt or innocence.
The Moroccan declines to testify, and under German law does not have to plead guilty or not.
The single most damning piece of evidence against him, his attendance at a Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, has only received intermittent attention, because only one co-trainee, a Palestinian, has been available to testify.
The most dramatic evidence has been in the defendant's favour: US intelligence transcripts of claims by captured plotters Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed that Motassadeq was not told in advance about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The prosecution has been exasperated that Washington is unwilling to declassify any data, if it exists, that incriminates Motassadeq.
Germany's top domestic intelligence official, Heinz Fromm, has also said the plot only began after Motassadeq's Afghan stint.
With the witnesses in disagreement, the case appears to be hanging in the balance, and both sides have redoubled their efforts to score points from evidence that often remains vague and mundane.
The next high point is likely to be 25 and 26 January, when a US special agent, Matthew G. Walsh, is to answer questions in court about how the United States obtained its knowledge of the plot.
Walsh will have lawyers representing the US government at his side, ready to object if any question oversteps Washington's rules on the release of intelligence secrets.
At his first trial, Motassadeq received the maximum possible sentence, 15 years in jail. He is appearing this time before a completely new panel of Hamburg judges.
Subject: German news