Prosecutors seek maximum sentence for Sept. 11 suspect

Thursday, February 6, 2003

HAMBURG, Germany -- Federal prosecutors demanded the maximum sentence of 15 years Wednesday for the first Sept. 11 terror suspect to be tried, calling the defendant "a cog that kept the machinery going."

During more than three months of testimony, prosecutors portrayed Moroccan student Mounir el Motassadeq, 28, as an integral part of a terror cell that included lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.

They said the defendant -- who admitted knowing the alleged members of the Hamburg al-Qaida cell but denied knowing about their activities -- paid rent and school fees for cell members, thereby helping them maintain the pose of normal student life in Germany.

"He is what we might call a founding member," chief prosecutor Walter Hemberger told the Hamburg state court as he wrapped up 4 1/2 hours of closing arguments.

"The defendant decided to sacrifice himself to an ideology that despises humanity," Hemberger said. "He was closely integrated into Atta's group."

Prosecutors dismissed el Motassadeq's insistence that he knew nothing of the plot and said his actions helped drive and conceal the preparations. They called for his conviction on more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and as a member of a terrorist organization.

They also highlighted that el Motassadeq repeatedly denied having been to Afghanistan but then admitted attending an al-Qaida camp there when he testified at the trial's opening Sept. 22.

"He built up a construction of lies that has no basis in fact," prosecutor Kai Lohse said.

Witnesses testified el Motassadeq was close to the other alleged members of the Hamburg cell -- suicide hijackers Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi; and logisticians Ramzi Binalshibh, Said Bahaji and Zakariya Essabar.

The hijackers and Binalshibh traveled to Afghanistan in late 1999, where they are believed to have made plans for the Sept. 11 attacks with Osama bin Laden, prosecutors said.

Back in Hamburg, el Motassadeq allegedly held power of attorney over al-Shehhi's bank account and paid his bills. "Without the help of the defendant, there would have been a danger of the plot being discovered," Lohse said.

Religious duty

In mid-2000, the defendant went to Afghanistan. He has said he thought it was his religious duty to learn how to handle weapons. Although he denied seeing bin Laden, a trial witness said he was present when the al-Qaida leader preached holy war.

Prosecutors maintained the purpose of el Motassadeq's trip was to inform Essabar, the cell's contact person there, about the progress of the plot. El Motassadeq maintains it was coincidence he met Essabar there.

Later, he let Essabar use his Hamburg address for a U.S. visa application in what Lohse said was an attempt to conceal the plotters' activities and "further proof that he was trusted."

In September 2000, el Motassadeq made a $2,500 transfer from al-Shehhi's account that prosecutors said helped finance flight lessons for al-Shehhi and Atta in the United States.

According to testimony, el Motassadeq came to Germany in 1993 and met Atta in 1996, when the two attended the same university in Hamburg. Atta's group becoming increasingly radical in 1998 and 1999, excluding outsiders.

El Motassadeq's lawyers will make their closing arguments next Wednesday. A five-judge panel is to rule on the case. No date was set for the verdict.

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