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World - Reuters
Pilot Said to Boast of Murder Year Before Sept 11
Thu Aug 29, 9:30 AM ET

By Adam Tanner

BERLIN (Reuters) - One of the kamikaze hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center apparently boasted more than a year before the September 11 attack that his actions would kill thousands, Germany's public prosecutor said on Thursday.

Prosecutor General Kay Nehm gave details of the warning after charging an alleged conspirator, Mounir El Motassadeq, with serving as a terrorist accomplice in the murder of more than 3,000 people in the New York attack.

Nehm told how hijacker Marwan Al Shehhi, who piloted the second plane into the World Trade Center, told a Hamburg librarian in April or May 2000: "There will be thousands of dead, you will think of me."

"In addition the words 'World Trade Center' were mentioned," Nehm said.

Shehhi's warning in the port city of Hamburg appears to be a rare breach of security for an extraordinarily secretive group. Those who knew the hijackers there have described them as polite, hard-working students who gave no clues that they would commit the world's deadliest peacetime attack.

The prosecutor told reporters Motassadeq and Shehhi were part of a group of seven radical Islamists who came together in the 1990s in Hamburg. Of those, only Motassadeq, 28, a former electrical engineering student, has been charged. Three were pilots killed in the attacks and the others are still at large.

"The charges are suspicion of membership in a terrorist group and aiding and abetting murder in more than 3,000 cases," Nehm said. "He is accused of being a member of the Hamburg cell that supported the four terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001."

Motassadeq was arrested in Hamburg in late November. It is the first time he has been formally charged. "Motassadeq was a cog without which the thing would not have worked," Nehm said.

The leader of the Hamburg cell was former urban planning student Mohammed Atta, who piloted the first plane into the World Trade Center. Shehhi, who piloted the second, and a third pilot Ziad Jarrah had also studied in Hamburg, which has many residents hailing from the Middle East.

"The militant rejection of Western society and its values and the defense of the Muslim world against non-Muslims, including through terrorist acts, was the basis of the group's activities," he added.

The other three members of the group were Atta's roommates whom police are still looking for. They are German Said Bahaji, Yemeni Ramzi Binalshibh, who tried to enter the United States and is thought to have wanted to take part in the hijackings, and Moroccan Zakariya Essabar, who was also denied visas to join Atta, Shehhi and Jarrah in the United States.

AGENT OF THE ATTACKERS

Motassadeq lived just around the corner from Atta and his "house of supporters." He met Atta some time in 1995 or 1996 and served as a witness to Atta's 1996 will. Nahm said their terror cell was formed by at least the summer of 1999.

"By October 1999 at the latest, the members of the group under Atta's leadership had decided to participate in a jihad through a terrorist attack on America and kill as many people as possible," the prosecutor said.

The next step was training in Afghanistan ( news - web sites) at al Qaeda camps. Motassadeq was in Afghanistan from May to August 2000, a few months after Atta and three others, Nehm said.

"In addition to ideological and militant schooling the stay enabled them to agree with the international network on the details of the attack and on logistical support," Nehm said.

After Atta and others had traveled to the United States to start pilot training, Motassadeq remained in Hamburg to provide logistical support as an "agent" for the group, Nehm said.

Authorities say Motassadeq managed pilot Shehhi's Hamburg bank account, which was used to cover costs related to his U.S. residence permit and flight training. Nehm said Motassadeq also provided financial assistance to other members already in the United States in the final stages of their planning.

Motassadeq's wife, who still lives down the street from the now vacant Atta apartment, declined to comment when contacted by telephone on Thursday. Nehm said because of the role of women in Islam, she may not have known about her husband's activities.

In October, Motassadeq told Reuters he knew fellow students Atta and Shehhi but only casually.


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