Moroccan testifies that he visited al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan

Man accused of aiding hijackers says he received only religious training

October 23, 2002|By Terry McDermott and Dirk Laabs | Terry McDermott and Dirk Laabs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HAMBURG, Germany - A Moroccan man accused of providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 hijackers told a court yesterday that he and other members of the alleged Hamburg terror cell trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, but he said the training was for religious purposes.

Mounir Motassadeq is the first person accused of direct involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to go on trial anywhere. He is charged with aiding and abetting in the killing of more than 3,000 people, but he said he knew nothing of plans for the attacks.

Motassadeq, a 28-year-old electrical engineering student, testified for four hours on the opening day of his trial. Motassadeq's attorneys had previously denied that he had attended al-Qaida camps, but Motassadeq said in court that he had spent a month in a camp outside Kandahar in July 2000.

He said Mohamed Atta, thought by investigators to have been the leader of the Hamburg cell, gave him detailed instructions on how to reach Afghanistan, but he testified that he had no direct knowledge that Atta ever attended a camp. He acknowledged that many of the other men accused of belonging to the cell - alleged pilots Marwan Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah and supporters Ramzi Binalshibh and Zakariya Essabar - went to camps in Afghanistan. He said he met Essabar outside the Kandahar camp nearly every day for prayers.

Motassadeq said he did not learn the camp was financed by Osama bin Laden until after he arrived there. He said he never saw bin Laden but was told by others that bin Laden visited regularly, sometimes staying overnight nearby.

Motassadeq said the men from Hamburg never discussed becoming suicide bombers, which he said would be a violation of his faith. He said training in the camps was an end in itself, a fulfillment of religious duty.

Motassadeq stressed several times that he was not asked by anybody to join the jihad when he left the camp after a month. "Nobody gave me any orders," he said.

Motassadeq did not make an opening statement. He answered questions from his attorneys, prosecutors and the judge. Even though he said he was unaware of the Sept. 11 plot, his testimony provides the first detailed glimpse into the relationships among the Hamburg men. Judge Albrecht Mentz established in an hourlong examination that Motassadeq knew all of the alleged cell members and was close to Atta, with whom he met as often as four times a week for several years.

When asked by the judge what kind of topics the men discussed, Motassadeq said, "Religious and political topics, such as the problems in Kosovo, Chechnya and Palestine." He said their discussions were never anti-American or anti-Jewish.

He said there was an understanding within the group "that there is a war going on in Palestine, and this problem needs to be solved." When asked how, Motassadeq said: "We need a political solution, the people need to communicate. Violence never solves any problem. Suicide missions are not allowed, according to the Quran. There are rules even in war - you are not allowed to kill women, children and old people."

Terry McDermott and Dirk Laabs write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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