Retrial of Convicted 9/11 Suspect Begins

HAMBURG, Germany -- The retrial of the only Sept. 11 terror suspect ever convicted opened Tuesday with the United States under pressure to allow testimony by alleged key al-Qaida operatives in its custody.

Mounir el Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan charged with aiding the three Hamburg-based suicide hijackers, won a new trial in March after a German appeals court ruled his first one unfair because the U.S.-held witnesses did not testify. That decision was a setback to the German government. As he opened the retrial, presiding Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt stressed that the Hamburg state court would not be swayed by any pressure.

"For me, this is not about fulfilling the expectations of governments or the public," he said.

El Motassadeq, who denies the charges, was released from prison in April when the Hamburg court decided there was no longer sufficient suspicion that he was guilty of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder to hold him pending retrial.

His conviction on those charges and for membership in a terrorist group were overturned by the appeals court, making the quest for testimony from the witnesses -- Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- critical to Germany's second attempt to convict him.

Binalshibh, a Yemeni, is believed to have been the Hamburg cell's key contact with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Mohammed is thought to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lawyer Josef Gr?ssle-M?nscher said he would argue that torture "underlies the interrogation system of the United States," making any evidence from Binalshibh or Mohammed inadmissible even if it is provided.

He cited reports from prisoners released from U.S. military detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the policy of holding Taliban and al-Qaida suspects without giving them the usual rights of prisoners of war set out in the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. Justice Department refused to allow even transcripts of the two men's interrogations to be admitted as evidence in el Motassadeq's trial.

Lack of their testimony also played a large role in the February acquittal in the same court of el Motassadeq's friend and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi, who faced identical charges.

But now German prosecutors say they are confident they will receive more information from the United States for the retrial.

El Motassadeq is accused of helping pay tuition and other bills for members of the Hamburg al-Qaida cell, which included suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, to allow them to live as students as they plotted the attacks.

He admitted to training in bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, and witnesses at his trial testified that he was as radical as the rest of the group, often talking of jihad -- holy war -- and his hatred of Israel and the United States.

He signed Atta's will and had power of attorney over al-Shehhi's bank account.