Sept. 11 suspects plotted in 1999

Al-Qaida cell e-mailed 31 flight schools in U.S.

Moroccan charged in attacks

German official describes planning and execution

August 30, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KARLSRUHE, Germany - German authorities said yesterday that the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg identified the World Trade Center as a target more than a year before two hijacked airliners were flown into the towers.

The country's top prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said investigators have learned that plans for the attacks were well under way in November 1999 when four members of the Hamburg group went to Afghanistan. They apparently settled on the trade center in 2000 and when they returned, immediately approached flight schools in the United States, he said.

"Thirty-one flight schools were written to by e-mail with a request that documents be sent to a group of Arab students who were interested in flight training," Nehm said. "And to our knowledge, that was the first instance of a concrete plan."

The evidence from the prosecutor and other German authorities offered the most thorough account yet of the planning and execution of the Sept. 11 plot.

Nehm described a conversation he said was recounted by a witness during their investigation, in which Marwan al-Shehhi, suspected of being the pilot of one of the planes, mentioned the twin towers to a Hamburg librarian in April or May 2000 and boasted: "There will be thousands of dead. You will all think of me."

"You will see," Nehm quoted Shehhi as saying. "In America something is going to happen. There will be many killed."

The prosecutor offered details of the new evidence in an interview last night on the German television program Panorama and at a news conference called here to discuss charges brought Wednesday against Mounir El Motassadeq, 28.

The charges against Motassadeq, the prosecutor said, include more than 3,000 counts of murder in connection with the deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania. He was also charged with being a member of a terrorist group.

"The accused was just as involved in preparing the attacks up until the end as the others who remained in Hamburg," Nehm said at the news conference. "He was aware of the commitment to mount a terror attack against the targets chosen by the cell, and he supported the planning and preparation for these attacks through multiple activities."

Motassadeq is the only person held in Germany in connection with the attacks and only the second person formally charged worldwide. The other, Zacarias Moussaoui, was indicted in the United States on six charges related to the attacks and faces the death penalty.

Motassadeq, a Moroccan, was arrested in November and had been held since then pending formal charges. He denied any involvement in the plot in interviews with news organizations before his arrest. German authorities said yesterday that he has not cooperated with them and has continued to deny any knowledge of the plot.

Nehm said yesterday that in November 1999, the suspected ringleader of the Hamburg cell, Mohamed Atta, and three others - Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh - left Hamburg for an al-Qaida camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He said they lived in a Taliban guest- house and received instructions and support for their plan.

The FBI believes Atta was the pilot of one plane that struck the World Trade Center, and Shehhi is believed to have flown the other. Jarrah is presumed to have been the pilot of the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania.

"Besides sharing ideological and military training, the members of the cell coordinated with the international network on the details of the attack and the logistical support," Nehm told reporters at the news conference.

Motassadeq lived near Atta and the other suspects in Hamburg and was, like them, a student. Nehm said Motassadeq and another Hamburg suspect, Zakariya Essabar, went to Afghanistan in early 2000. Motassadeq was seen in May 2000 living at a Taliban guesthouse and training in a Qaida camp near Kandahar, Nehm said.

In Hamburg, Motassadeq covered for members of the cell who had left for the United States, according to Nehm, even terminating the lease of the Marienstrasse apartment for Shehhi and managing Shehhi's bank account in Hamburg after he went to the United States for flight training in June 2000.

"Motassadeq signed the lease termination in the name of others. He signed Motassadeq in Arabic script in such a way that one would assume that al-Shehhi himself had terminated the lease," Nehm said in the television interview.

In laying out the charges against Motassadeq at the news conference, Nehm gave a detailed account of how the Hamburg cell was formed and how the hijackers trained for their suicide mission.

"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 Jewry and the United States."

In outlining the origins of the plot, Nehm said November 1998 was a decisive moment, because that was when Atta, Shibh and another suspected conspirator, Said Bahaji, moved into an apartment at 54 Marienstrasse in Hamburg.

"This is when there were intensive discussions concentrating on the question of what can be done," Nehm said. "The hate was there, the hate against the United States, the hate against world Jewry. Those were the discussion topics."

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