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Charges Filed Against Moroccan Connected With Terrorist Attacks

By Carol J. Williams
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BERLIN

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges Wednesday against the only suspect in their custody linked to the Hamburg terrorist cell accused of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mounir El Motassadeq, a 28-year-old Moroccan, will face trial “because of his participation in the terror attacks,” the office of federal prosecutor Kay Nehm announced in a statement that did not specify the charges. Nehm scheduled a news conference for Thursday to disclose details.

Motassadeq was a frequent visitor to the Hamburg apartment of hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi, and his name appeared last fall on a U.S. list of 370 people or associations suspected of assisting terrorists. He was arrested Nov. 28 after investigators discovered he had a power of attorney over a bank account held by Shehhi and had been a witness to Atta’s last will and testament -- a document replete with extremist religious expressions and paranoid comments.

In a statement at the time of Motassadeq’s arrest, Nehm’s office said the suspect managed the bank account for Shehhi from May to November 2000 and that “large sums of money were regularly transferred into this account. ... According to our information, these funds were used to help members of the terrorist group.”

The payments were made to support the plotters during their stay in the United States for flight training, investigators said.

Atta, a 33-year-old Egyptian, is believed to have piloted the hijacked Boeing 767 that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11. Sixteen minutes later, another 767 rammed the south tower. Shehhi, 23, of the United Arab Emirates, was believed to have been at the controls.

Another Hamburg associate, Ziad Jarrah, 26, of Lebanon, died aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers apparently stormed the cockpit.

In interviews before his arrest, Motassadeq denied any role in the attacks and insisted that he knew the suspects only from occasional encounters in Hamburg at the al-Quds mosque they all frequented. But sources involved in the investigation say the Moroccan is pictured with the Sept. 11 figures in 1999 photos taken at the wedding of another suspect, Said Bahaji, who is now a fugitive.

Motassadeq, an electrical engineering student, attended the same Hamburg Technical University department where Atta and Shehhi were students. His apartment was just a few blocks from the Marienstrasse hangout where the elaborate planning for the terror strikes is believed to have taken place under Atta’s supervision.

International arrest warrants have been issued by Nehm’s office for three other suspected collaborators from the Hamburg cell: Bahaji, 27, a German citizen of Moroccan descent; Ramsi Binalshibh, 30, of Yemen; and Zakariya Essabar, 25, of Morocco. They are all wanted for alleged support to the suicide pilots.

Authorities are still investigating whether Motassadeq’s two years of work as a janitor at Hamburg’s airport might have given him access to secure areas or means of creating false identifications. German media reported last fall that police sweeps of suspected terrorist hide-outs in other areas of the country turned up airline uniforms and security badges that might have helped terrorists gain access to planes.