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EDITIONS
Sunday, 27 October, 2002, 16:29 GMT
Muslims uneasy as Hamburg trial starts
Mounir al-Motassadek
Mr Motassadek is accused of supporting the hijackers

The main entrance to Hamburg's court-house was obscured by crowds of journalists.

The world's media had descended on this city - once known for its liberal traditions, but now famous for the group of terrorists who had lived here unnoticed for years.

Armed police officers, some kitted out for a full scale riot, patrolled the streets surrounding the court.


Because the hijackers were living in our city means all Muslims are regarded as potential terrorists

Ramazan Ucar
As I queued up to go through the lengthy security checks, I noticed a young Muslim woman behind me, a member of the public, perhaps even a relative.

She looked nervous. Everyone seemed to be on edge here. Once inside the public gallery, I watched as the 28 year-old Moroccan defendant, Mounir al-Motassadek, was brought into the court.

He was wearing a grey shirt and black jeans - and looked calm and relaxed. He flashed a smile at someone he recognised in the public gallery.

The five judges sat beside the defendant. Without the traditional wigs, they seemed an innocuous bunch.

From the other side of the bullet-proof glass screen, Mr Motassadek delivered his evidence in German and surprised everyone in the court by admitting he had in fact been to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

But he denied knowing anything about the plans of the would-be hijackers.

Tight security

Day two of the trial, and a group of Muslim men are sitting in the public gallery.

Hamburg apartment where WTC attackers lived
The 11 September attacks were allegedly plotted in Hamburg
On the previous day, several had been taken away for questioning after police said they had been making signals to one another. One man caught my eye and as I left the court, I went up to him.

He introduced himself only as "Said H". He told me he worked in a printing business in Hamburg and had met Mr Motassadek after 11 September.

"He's a good man," he told me. "But he won't get a fair trial. The prosecutors are clutching at straws."

Said H told me he attends the weekly prayers at the Central Mosque, the biggest mosque in Hamburg.

"You'll find plenty of other Muslims there who feel as I do," he said.

In the heart of the Muslim quarter of Hamburg, I hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

Cigarettes and carpets

There is a bustle of activity in the shops. Groups of casually dressed young men are sitting idly in cafes, chatting and smoking.

The Central Mosque is just round the corner from the Al Quds Mosque, where Mr Motassadek, and the other members of the so-called Hamburg terror cell are believed to have picked up their radical brand of Islam and anti-American fervour.

The Central Mosque is pretty modern - built in 1976 - the image of its distinctive minarets forms a mural on the walls outside. Inside, Ottoman ceramic tiles and Persian rugs decorate the rooms.

Over a cup of mint tea, Ramazan Ucar, who is from Turkey, tells me he will be relieved when the trial is over.


Bush is setting fire to terrorists with his so-called war on terror, but innocent Muslims are suffering

Ramazan Ucar

"To us, he's like an outsider. He doesn't belong to our community.

"But the trial has had a huge impact. Because the hijackers were living in our city means all Muslims are regarded as potential terrorists.

"And now, President Bush wants to wage war against Iraq. Saddam Hussein has got nothing to do with 11 September. The Americans want to get rid of Saddam to get their hands on the Iraqi oil fields."

Ramazan gets up to leave, but he stops and says: "We have a saying back home in Turkey. If you set fire to dry timber, you'll also ignite any wet wood lying beside it."

I look puzzled. "Let me explain," he continues. "Bush is setting fire to terrorists with his so-called war on terror, but innocent Muslims are suffering."

Mistrust

Down the road from the mosque, I stop off at a cafe. Muslim families are enjoying a meal out - there's a delicious smell of grilled lamb and garlic.

I share a table with 23-year-old Ibrahim, who works for the German Navy in Hamburg's shipyards. "Let me tell you what it's like to live here," he says."

"A few months ago, one of the ships I'd been working on was sent off on a mission to Africa.

That was strange as everyone had been expecting that the boat would stay here in Hamburg. I asked a colleague why there had been a change of plan.

"'It's because of you, and 11 September. You Muslims, all you do is create trouble,' I was told.

"I went mad," Ibrahim said. "There's so much anger now. Muslims are mistrusted wherever they are. And that's dangerous - anger, you know, breeds revenge.

"OK," he went on. "Motassadek may be crazy. But look at President Bush and Tony Blair - they're crazy too. They're planning another war in Iraq - another war against Muslims. How crazy is that?"

He shrugged, and he shook his head with despair.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

22 Oct 02 | Europe
22 Oct 02 | Americas
29 Aug 02 | Americas
29 Aug 02 | Europe
06 Sep 02 | Europe
28 May 02 | Europe
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