9/11 suspect's retrial begins in Germany

U.S. authorities pledge their limited cooperation


HAMBURG, Germany - A German court began the retrial of Mounir el Motassadeq, the only person to be convicted for involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, with the disclosure yesterday that the United States would for the first time share evidence about the plot.

The conviction was reversed in March by an appeals court, which said that critical evidence had been withheld by German and U.S. authorities. Having been sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing support for some of the suicide hijackers, Motassadeq was freed in April.

The decision by the United States to offer limited cooperation to the Germans introduced a combustible element to the second trial, which many in Germany had expected would be a frustrating replay of the first and two other Sept. 11 prosecutions, which have foundered on a dearth of available evidence.

It was not clear what information the United States planned to hand over. In a three-page diplomatic note faxed to the German government by the State Department on the eve of the trial, Washington said it would provide "unclassified summaries of relevant intelligence information."

Lawyers said the summaries could include excerpts from interrogations of Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected member of al-Qaida who is in U.S. custody and who is believed to have played a central role in the Sept. 11 plot. He could shed light on whether Motassadeq knew about the plans,

In keeping with past practice, the Justice Department refused to allow any captured al-Qaida suspects to testify at the trial. The United States did not respond to a request by the court for testimony from former CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Motassadeq's lawyers are seeking to head off the prospect of damaging new disclosures by arguing that any statements made by suspected militants in U.S. prisons would be inadmissible as evidence because they might have been obtained through torture.

Invoking the conditions at the military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, the lawyers promised to make the trial as much about U.S. conduct since September 2001 as about the events leading up to the attacks.

The lawyers' approach drew an emotional reaction from a relative of one of the victims. Dominic J. Puopolo, 38, whose mother was on one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center, urged the panel of five judges not to turn the proceedings into a "sweeping indictment of the United States."

"You're desecrating the memory of 3,000 people who died, including my mother," he said, his voice shaking, addressing the court as a co-plaintiff, the status the victims' families have been accorded in the trial.

Across the courtroom, Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan who came to Germany in 1993 as an engineering student, listened impassively. He turned down an invitation to speak.

That Motassadeq had links to al-Qaida is not in dispute. He was a friend of two of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, wiring money to al-Shehhi. He also admitted attending a training camp in Afghanistan sponsored by Osama bin Laden. But Motassadeq denied knowing about the impending attacks and said he had helped the hijackers unwittingly.

Reached by phone in Marrakech, his father, Ibrahim Motassadeq, said, "People are searching for something that doesn't exist."

During the trial in Germany of Abdelghani Mzoudi, another Moroccan suspected of being a member of al-Qaida, the German police faxed a letter to the court summarizing some intelligence that Washington had made available to the German authorities under conditions that it not be turned over to the court.

The letter said that a man - who was not named but who is widely believed to be Binalshibh - told his U.S. captors that neither Mzoudi nor Motassadeq was aware of the planning or the details of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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