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RESPONSE TO TERROR | THE INVESTIGATION

Suspect Linked to Pivotal Hamburg Cell Arrested

Europe: German police detain a Moroccan man believed responsible for funneling money to alleged hijackers during their U.S. flight training.

November 29, 2001|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany — More than 11 weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, German police made their first arrest Wednesday of a suspect connected to the Hamburg terrorist cell that is believed to have plotted and executed three of the four hijackings.

Police in Hamburg detained the suspect, 27-year-old Moroccan Mounir Motassadeq, on "suspicion of supporting a terrorist association," the office of federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said.

Motassadeq had been under police scrutiny for weeks. He was one of two men who signed chief terrorist suspect Mohamed Atta's 1996 will, a document that has given investigators some insights into Atta's mind. In the will, Atta expressed his hope to die as an Islamic martyr and set out elaborate instructions for his funeral and interment.

Motassadeq's role in the cell that operated out of Atta's three-room apartment in suburban Hamburg was funneling money to suspects while they were learning to fly planes at U.S. aviation schools, Nehm said.

"The accused managed a bank account set up for [suspected hijacker] Marwan Al-Shehhi in Hamburg. From May 2000 to November 2000, large sums of money were regularly transferred into this account," the prosecutor said. "According to the information we have obtained to date, these funds were used to help members of the terrorist group."

Atta and Al-Shehhi are thought to have piloted the two planes that crashed into New York's World Trade Center.

Al-Shehhi was paid a monthly student stipend of more than $1,800 by the government of his native United Arab Emirates. German media have reported that he was also paid large sums through money transfer agencies by sources in the UAE.

Motassadeq has been registered as a student for the last six years at Hamburg's Technical University, where Atta and Al-Shehhi studied. He is to be interrogated at the prosecutor's headquarters in Karlsruhe today.

Authorities described Motassadeq as a close friend of Atta and a frequent visitor to the apartment on Hamburg's Marienstrasse.

Contacted in Hamburg by The Times last week, Motassadeq denied having anything to do with Atta or with terrorism.

German authorities have issued arrest warrants for three other men thought to have provided logistical help to the hijackers.

They are Said Bahaji, 26, a German citizen; Ramsi Binalshibh of Yemen, 29; and Zakariya Essabar, 24, of Morocco. All three are believed to have fled Germany before or soon after Sept. 11.

Two older men--one of whom is still in Hamburg--with suspected ties to associates of Osama bin Laden have been under investigation for allegedly supporting the Hamburg cell.

Police have said they have too little evidence to issue an arrest warrant for Mamoun Darkazanli, 43, a Syrian-born German citizen, or for Mohammed Haydar Zammar, 40, a Syrian said by police to have fled to Morocco.

Darkazanli, who insists he is an innocent businessman, has been accused by U.S. officials of financing terrorism through an account he held jointly with Bin Laden lieutenant Mamdouh Mahmud Salim.

Salim is awaiting trial in New York on charges related to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

German police have been reluctant to jail figures whose involvement with the suspected hijackers was circumstantial or unclear.

Germany's liberal student-visa laws allowed Atta, Al-Shehhi and fellow suspect Ziad Samir Jarrah to be registered for years at Hamburg's universities, even when they dropped out of school for long periods of time.

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