HAMBURG, Germany – A Moroccan accused of helping the Sept. 11 homicide hijackers introduced a Sudanese student to a group around alleged lead hijacker Mohammed Atta, a group that raged against the United States "because it defends Israel," the student testified Wednesday.
Ahmed Maglad, 30, testified he met defendant Mounir el Motassadeq (search) while living in Hamburg in 1997. Maglad said the Moroccan introduced him to Atta, who he described as "aggressively religious" and always trying to "prove something."
"Everybody spoke out against the United States because it defends Israel," Maglad said of the Hamburg group, adding that its members believed "the foundation of Israel was unjustified, and the Palestinian conflict was always a topic for Atta."
Maglad also said he knew Ramzi Binalshibh (search), who is now in U.S. custody and is the suspected contact between Al Qaeda (search) and the Hamburg cell that included Atta and two other alleged Sept. 11 homicide pilots, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah.
Appearing at el Motassadeq's retrial, Maglad said Atta became "too much" for him and that was one reason he changed schools and moved to Berlin in 1998.
He portrayed el Motassadeq as firmly allied with Atta.
"Mounir and Atta didn't have any quarrels and Mounir once suggested when I was of a different opinion that I should be quiet," Maglad testified.
However, he said he "took back" a statement to police that el Motassadeq seemed to have reached a new "religious level." He testified he remembered "nothing notable" about conversations he had with the defendant.
Maglad said he remained friends with el Motassadeq after moving to Berlin, and he gave a friendly wave to the defendant as he left the courtroom. El Motassadeq nodded.
Testifying about Binalshibh, Maglad said Binalshibh once visited him in Berlin, saying he had "found his wife" there.
Presiding Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt read from files that the unidentified woman broke up with Binalshibh in 2000 after finding him too radical. Schudt said the woman told police she awoke one morning to see "Binalshibh holding and kissing a curved dagger during prayer."
El Motassadeq, 30, was convicted in February 2003 of membership in a terrorist organization and more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and was sentenced to the maximum 15 years. But the conviction was overturned last March when an appeals court ruled he was unfairly denied evidence from U.S.-held Al Qaeda suspects, including Binalshibh.
After the retrial opened last week, the U.S. Justice Department sent the court summaries of the interrogations of Binalshibh and suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Both maintained that el Motassadeq was not part of the plot.
Binalshibh said the Hamburg cell comprised only himself and the three pilots, although the Justice Department cast doubt on the statements' credibility.
El Motassadeq is staying with his original defense: that he knew and was friends with most of the principals of the Hamburg cell, but he was not privy to their deadly plans.
Prosecutors hope witness testimony will counter Binalshibh's statements by showing how closely others were involved with the plotters and their discussions of jihad, or holy war.
On Tuesday, German student Shahid Nickels testified el Motassadeq was a core member of the group around Atta, which he said grew increasingly radical and "said that something had to be done against America."