When a German appeals court last March overturned the only conviction against a suspected Sept. 11 conspirator, the court blamed the U.S. for failing to allow testimony from terrorists in its custody. Now Mounir el-Motassadeq a Moroccan engineering student in Hamburg charged with being an accessory to murder in the 9/11 attacks and supporting a terrorist organization is on trial again. And last week, the U.S. unexpectedly turned over intelligence reports based on questioning of two top al-Qaeda operatives. It was a victory for the Germans except that the testimony seems to exonerate el-Motassadeq.
Ramzi Binalshibh, the only surviving member of the core Hamburg cell that carried out the attacks, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected 9/11 mastermind, were questioned independently. Both men claimed el-Motassadeq was not a member of the cell, which included Binalshibh and three hijackers, according to copies of the reports reviewed by Time. But the U.S. agent who wrote the report warns that their statements "may have been meant to influence as well as inform" and that "they may also have been intentionally withholding information." Defense attorney Josef Grässle-Münscher says the testimony clears el-Motassadeq. "The prosecutor has to prove that their testimony was intentionally intended to misinform," he says. But prosecutors say inconsistencies in the testimony undermine its credibility; they haven't yet cited examples. Chief Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt called the access to testimony a "bit of progress" but wasn't sure what impact it could have.
"We have to consider what
this means for the trial and what it means for the volume of evidence we will listen to," he said.