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Germans May Call FBI Chief to Testify

Attorney says Mueller comments could help client accused of aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers.

October 31, 2002|Dirk Laabs | Special to The Times

HAMBURG, Germany — Defense attorneys for a Moroccan accused of providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 suicide pilots said Wednesday that they would seek to call FBI Director Robert Mueller and two suspected Al Qaeda members as witnesses in the man's trial.

Mounir Motassadeq is the first person charged with direct involvement in the Sept. 11 plot to go on trial. Motassadeq acknowledges that he knew the men in the Hamburg cell from which some of the pilots came and helped transfer money to some of them. He has said that he and the other men traveled to Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. However, he says he knew nothing of the plot to attack the U.S.

Hans Leistritz, one of Motassadeq's lawyers, said Wednesday that he would seek to call Mueller to bolster that claim. He cited an interview with Mueller published in the Washington Post in June in which the FBI chief said that the planning for the attacks occurred in Afghanistan, not Hamburg. Motassadeq could not have known about the plan if it was conceived outside Hamburg, Leistritz asserted.

Motassadeq's defense has also asked that Ramzi Binalshibh, suspected of helping coordinate the attacks, and Mohambedou Ould Slahi, suspected of helping plan a foiled millennium bombing of LAX, be brought to testify. Both men have been captured; Binalshibh is in U.S. custody and Slahi is believed to be.

Ahmed Maklat, a 28-year-old Sudanese man who is studying in Berlin, testified Wednesday that he knew many of the members of the Hamburg cell and prayed frequently with Motassadeq and hijacker Mohamed Atta. He said that he met Atta at a mosque in 1996 and that the 33-year-old Egyptian had a particularly stern interpretation of Islam.

"He was a guy who wanted always to be right. He felt he was a leader," Maklat said. He quoted Atta as saying: "You have to show the outside world when you are abroad that you are a Muslim, through your behavior, your clothes; you have to be a role model."

One day in a grocery store, Maklat said, "Atta asked me if I am ready to fight for my faith. 'Not yet,' I answered. Atta answered, 'The brothers die in Bosnia-Herzegovina and you say no.' It was a test for me."

Another time, he said, Atta told him, "Joy kills the heart."

Maklat said Atta believed that the Western world was united in fighting against Muslims everywhere. But neither Atta nor others in their group of friends ever talked about committing violence, Maklat said. "I was shivering all over when I saw the pictures of [hijacker Ziad Samir] Jarrah and the others on TV. There was no hint ever they would do something like that."

Motassadeq has said he was unaware that any of his friends had moved to the United States to take flying lessons. He has said he thought Atta was in Malaysia. But Maklat said either Motassadeq or another friend told him in 2000 that Atta was in the U.S.

FBI spokesman John Iannarelli said Wednesday that the bureau had yet to receive a summons for Mueller to testify. Lacking that, Iannarelli said, the agency does not have enough information to know if Mueller would agree.

The U.S. and Germany have been feuding over Berlin's refusal to share information on Zacarias Moussaoui, the man charged by the U.S. with trying to join the Sept. 11 conspiracy as a pilot.

America has said it will seek the death penalty against Moussaoui; the German Constitution forbids cooperating with other governments in capital cases.


Times staff writer Josh Meyer in Washington contributed to this report.

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