Germany charges man in 9/11 attacks

Moroccan is suspected of helping members of Hamburg al-Qaida cell

August 29, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

German prosecutors charged a Moroccan man yesterday with supporting members of the Hamburg cell of al-Qaida suspected of planning and carrying out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The accusations against Mounir El Motassadeq, 28, are the first formal criminal charges brought by the Germans in connection with the attacks. Arrest warrants were issued soon after the attacks for two other members of the Hamburg group.

El Motassadeq was arrested in November on evidence that he managed the bank account of one of the suicide hijackers and arranged wire transfers to the hijackers while they attended U.S. flight schools.

He was charged yesterday in a Hamburg superior court.

"The prosecutor's office charged him for his participation in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States," the federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said in a statement.

No details of the formal charges were disclosed, and prosecutors said they would discuss the specifics today.

When he was arrested last year, prosecutors said El Motassadeq was a close associate of Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the plot and one of two suicide hijackers who lived in a Hamburg apartment before the attacks. In 1996, El Motassadeq was a witness who signed Atta's will.

Prosecutors also said he had managed the banking of another hijacker, Marwan Al-Shehhi, and the money was apparently used to help Al-Shehhi pay for his flight lessons and living costs in the United States.

At the time of El Motassadeq's arrest, Nehm said, "According to our information to date, these funds were used to help members of the terrorist group."

El Motassadeq has never denied that he knew the hijackers, but he has provided reporters with various versions of the nature and intensity of his contacts with them before his arrest last year.

At times he said that he knew the hijackers only through the al-Quds mosque, which Atta and other hijackers attended. On other occasions, he said he had visited the apartment on Marienstrasse in Hamburg where Atta lived with Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the two men still being sought on arrest warrants by the Germans.

The formal indictment of El Motassadeq comes as German authorities said they believed they had uncovered all the members of the Hamburg cell and had opened many other investigations into suspected Islamic militants.

"In the Federal Republic of Germany, 71 investigations are now being conducted against persons from Islamic fundamentalist terrorist circles," Klaus Ulrich Kersten, the head of the federal police agency, said in an interview last week.

He said the investigations were uncovering a widespread network of militants who were indoctrinated by radical preachers. Many had trained at camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.

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