BERLIN – Germany filed charges Wednesday against the only suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks apprehended in the country, raising the prospect of a trial in the city that was once home to several of the key hijackers.
The federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe said in a statement that Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan citizen, was charged in a Hamburg superior court "because of his participation in the terror attacks in the United States on Sept. 11." But the prosecutor did not announce specific charges or a date for the trial, and a spokeswoman refused to give details.
El Motassadeq, 28, was picked up Nov. 28 at his Hamburg apartment on suspicions he had "intensive contacts" with Sept. 11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and other members of the Hamburg cell.
Germany has also issued international arrest warrants for three other men -- Ramsi Binalshibh, Said Bahaji, and Zakariya Essabar -- who are believed to have been the group's logistical experts.
Authorities have released little information about El Motassadeq's suspected role, and a trial could help illuminate how the Hamburg cell functioned.
At the time he was arrested, authorities said that El Motassadeq had power of attorney over Al-Shehhi's Hamburg bank account, noting large sums of money were regularly deposited into the account from May 2000 to November 2000.
The account was used to finance Al-Shehhi, Atta and Jarrah, the prosecutor's office said. The money also financed Al-Shehhi during his stay in the United States and was used to pay for training at a Florida flight school.
Authorities believe Atta and Al-Shehhi piloted the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, while Jarrah piloted the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
"The accused maintained intensive contacts over several years" to the suicide hijackers, the prosecutor's office said at the time of El Motassadeq's arrest.
El Motassadeq's name appeared on a U.S. list of 370 individuals and organizations with suspected links to the Sept. 11 attacks that Finnish financial authorities made public in October. When contacted then by The Associated Press, El Motassadeq angrily denied any involvement.
"All of this is false, I have nothing to do with this thing," he said before hanging up.
El Motassadeq was an electrical engineering student at Hamburg's Technical University from 1995 to his arrest -- the same school where Atta, 33, and Al-Shehhi, 23, studied before leaving Germany last year for the United States.
In an October television interview, El Motassadeq admitted having power of attorney on Al-Shehhi's account but said he never made any transfers. He said he knew Atta and some of the other hijackers, and visited the apartment where Atta, Al-Shehhi and others lived.
El Motassadeq said he had signed Atta's will, as did others at the al-Quds mosque, and attended Bahaji's 1999 wedding there in a ceremony that also included Atta, Al-Shehhi, Jarrah and Essabar.
From 1996 to 1998, El Motassadeq worked as a cleaner at the Hamburg airport and had access to secure areas and aircraft. He passed a routine security check before starting the job.
After his arrest, it was also uncovered that El Motassadeq visited a nuclear plant near Hamburg in May, 2001, as part of a university trip. The school said, however, that El Motassadeq had to be cajoled into coming and did not take any notes on the trip, which was part of a sightseeing tour of the city of Stade.
Also Wednesday, the weekly Die Zeit reported in an advance copy of a report to be published Thursday that European authorities believe a British cleric may have coordinated Al Qaeda cells on the continent.
Abu Qutadah, whom German authorities have already accused of leading the militant Palestinian group Al Tawhid, was "bin Laden's ambassador in Europe," Spanish anti-terrorism judge Baltasar Garzon was quoted as saying.
A Jordanian of Palestinian descent, Abu Qutadah was convicted in absentia in 2000 by a military court in Jordan on charges of conspiring to attack U.S. and Israeli targets. He disappeared from London in February.
Al Tawhid, a loosely coordinated group with links to Al Qaeda, has been accused by German prosecutors of plotting attacks within the country on American, British and Israeli targets and helping smuggle Islamic fighters from Afghanistan to Germany.