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9/11 Cases Proving Difficult in Germany

Motassadeq and Mzoudi have acknowledged that they visited al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and were close friends with the ringleaders of the Hamburg-based cell, including hijackers Mohamed Atta, Ziad Samir Jarrah and Marwan Al-Shehhi. Testimony and evidence also have shown that they gave legal and financial cover to the hijackers when they left Germany to prepare for the attacks.

But their attorneys have argued, successfully so far, that there is no proof that they intentionally aided in or knew specific details of the plot in advance, two elements necessary for a conviction.

A cameraman films a Hamburg courtroom, protected by bulletproof glass and netting, before a session in the first trial of Mounir Motassadeq in 2002. (Pool Photo/Heribert Proepper Via AP)

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Prosecutors suffered another setback at the start of Motassadeq's retrial in August, when the U.S. government provided the Hamburg court with summaries of interrogations of two captured al Qaeda leaders, Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheik Mohammad, whom investigators have described as the architects of the plot.

German authorities had pressed the United States for more than a year to allow the two captives to testify, hoping they would bolster their case. Instead, the interrogation reports indicated that the hijackers did not tell Mzoudi, Motassadeq or anyone else in Hamburg of their plans in advance.

Dominic J. Puopolo Jr., a Miami Beach computer consultant whose mother was killed in the attacks, said it has been an uphill battle for the prosecution ever since.

"Everybody was saying this case was lost from day one," said Puopolo, who moved to Hamburg in August to keep tabs on the proceedings. "There was a heavy sense of that in the courtroom."

Puopolo attends the Motassadeq retrial each day and is allowed to question witnesses under a German law that gives the relatives of victims the right to assist in the prosecution. He said he planned to come to Hamburg only for the opening of the case, but decided to remain for the duration out of respect for his mother, Sonia Morales Puopolo, a passenger on the doomed American Airlines Flight 11 that took off from Boston.

Puopolo said U.S. investigators have played cockpit recordings for family members of the victims that make clear his mother was tortured by the hijackers before the jet crashed into the World Trade Center. Such knowledge, he said, makes it especially difficult for him to watch Motassadeq move freely through the courthouse and realize that there is a possibility no one in Hamburg will be held accountable.

"It takes enormous restraint sometimes," he said. "We have to remember that there's a very high threshold for guilt in this case. But you never know what happens in a trial. That's why you don't give up in the first days."

Prosecutors and the five-judge panel overseeing the trial said they still hope U.S. officials will provide fresh evidence or allow Mohammad and Binalshibh to be questioned directly. The German federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said Tuesday at a news conference in the city of Karlsruhe that U.S. officials had agreed to provide more information for the Motassadeq trial that he hoped would pave the way for a conviction.

Nehm did not give details about the information being sought. Spokesmen for the U.S. Justice and State departments did not respond to requests for comment.

The court has also sent invitations to members of the Sept. 11 commission to testify about the report they issued last summer, which described the formation and inner workings of the Hamburg cell in detail.

So far, however, there is no sign that the United States will be more forthcoming. Court officials said they have received no response from the Sept. 11 commission. The United States has given the German government classified reports about the Hamburg cell, but German intelligence officials notified the court two weeks ago that the documents could not be used as evidence in the trial because they were obtained on the condition that they remain secret.

In the meantime, little evidence has emerged since the retrial began in August that directly ties Motassadeq to the plot. Most witnesses have testified that they knew little about him other than that he was a close acquaintance of the hijackers.

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