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Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Packed courtroom hears new admission
Journalists crammed in the court behind a bulletproof screen
Journalists watched the trial behind a bulletproof screen

In the public gallery of Hamburg's state court, there was no sign of Mounir al-Motassadek's friends or relatives.

But the court was still packed - around 100 journalists from all over the world crammed into to the small room to see the man accused of being an accessory to the September 11 attacks.

Armed police surrounded the building as the media arrived - journalists faced thorough searches before being allowed in. We watched the proceedings separated from the judges, lawyers and defendant by bulletproof glass.

A German policeman outside the Hamburg court
Police officers surrounded the building
At 9.30am Mounir al-Motassadek arrived in the dock. Wearing a grey shirt and black trousers he looked confident and relaxed.

Seated between his two defence lawyers he listened as federal prosecutors read out a summary of the 100-page indictment against him.

An interpreter was sworn in to help him but his services were rarely required. The panel of five judges and prosecutors took turns in asking him questions.

Mr Motassadek answered most of them in fluent German - only turning to his translator for help with legal terms and expressions.

Crucial fact

Questioning centred on Mr Motassadek's friendship with one of the September 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta. When they were friends? Where did they meet? Why had Mr Motassadek signed Atta's will?

Mounir al-Motassadek told the court that he met Mohammed Atta every week. They would have dinner and talk about world affairs. They discussed Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya.

The judges pressed him further about their discussions and asked Mr Motassadek if he supported the concept of Jihad.

Mounir al-Motassadek said Jihad didn't necessarily mean a fight - it also meant a struggle. He said his Jihad was moving to Germany and learning the local language from scratch.

Court drawing of Mounir al-Motassadek
Mounir al-Motassadek appeared confident
Then, just before lunch, a crucial fact emerged. Mr Motassadek admitted that he had once visited Afghanistan. Until now, he had claimed he had never been there - only to Pakistan.

When the court adjourned, Mr Motassadek's defence lawyers held a press conference. They confirmed his story, saying that he had visited a training camp.

Journalists asked why this hadn't been mentioned before. Their answer was this - who would admit that they had been to Afghanistan 14 days after the September 11 attacks?

This admission is likely to dominate immediate proceedings and Mounir al-Motassadek has many more questions to come. The case is expected to last until early next year.


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