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9/11 Lawyer Bolsters Hamburg Defendant's Alibi

By Shannon Smiley
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page A12

HAMBURG, March 9 -- The U.S. commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, found no direct evidence that the Hamburg-based radicals who hijacked the four airliners shared details of the plot with a Moroccan man on trial here, an attorney for the commission testified Wednesday.

The statements by Dietrich Snell, who headed the bipartisan panel's investigation into the Hamburg cell and was on the stand for a second day, bolstered the alibi given by the defendant, Mounir Motassadeq, who is being tried on more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder for allegedly aiding the hijackers.

Motassadeq has acknowledged being friends with three of the hijackers in Hamburg. But he has denied knowing anything about the Sept. 11 conspiracy before the attacks.

Prosecutors were hoping that Snell, one of the authors of the final report issued by the commission last July, would shed more light on Motassadeq's involvement with the Hamburg cell. But the U.S. lawyer said the commission found no concrete signs that the plotters shared their plans with the defendant.

"What emerged from our investigation was essentially a sketchy pattern," Snell said, explaining that there were hints that outsiders may have known what the hijackers were up to but nothing solid.

Motassadeq, 31, is the only person so far convicted for playing a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2003, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but the verdict was overturned last year by a German appellate court, which ruled that the evidence against him was too weak to justify the conviction.

The commission's findings about the workings of the Hamburg cell were based largely on the interrogations of two captured al Qaeda leaders whom investigators consider to be central organizers of the plot: Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The U.S. Justice Department has provided the Hamburg court with summaries of statements made by Binalshibh and Mohammed, both of whom said that Motassadeq and others in Hamburg were intentionally kept in the dark.

German prosecutors have tried to challenge the veracity of the statements, pointing out inconsistencies in what they said and arguing that Binalshibh and Mohammed had a motive to lie to cover up for their friends. Snell, during his two days in the witness chair, urged the court to use caution in evaluating the detainees' statements, saying that the commission had suspected that the al Qaeda leaders might be trying to protect other conspirators.

The report found several instances in which Binalshibh "attempted to exonerate individuals," Snell said.

A five-judge panel of German judges is hearing Motassadeq's retrial. A verdict is due in May.

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