“Binalshibh, who was captured last week in Pakistan, has been handed over to U.S. authorities and moved out of that country. He is to be taken to an undisclosed third country for further interrogation, officials said… This official would not disclose the location or even the country where Binalshibh is being held, and said U.S. investigators are not pressing for Binalshibh to be brought to the United States at the moment.”
In May, German authorities asked the United States to provide access to six key witnesses, including Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni who is believed to have been the Hamburg al Qaeda cell’s key contact with Osama bin Laden’s organization.
However, in its letter, the United States said that even information on whether a given individual was in custody was classified as secret.
Other key witnesses sought by German authorities include suspected September 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is thought to be the mastermind of the attacks.
Opening the retrial Tuesday, Judge Schudt said the Hamburg state court wouldn’t be swayed by political pressure.
“For me, this is not about fulfilling the expectations of governments or the public,” he said. “The black hole in the chain of evidence will close. We will certainly not sink into it.”
El Motassadeq smiled but said nothing as he entered the court. He briefly answered questions about his identity but turned down the judge’s offer to respond to the indictment, AP reported.
El Motassadeq’s lawyer said he would maintain his client’s innocence, then ask the court to drop the proceedings because past experience showed el Motassadeq would not get a fair trial.
Lawyer Josef Graessle-Muenscher told AP he would argue that torture “underlies the interrogation system of the United States,” making any evidence from Binalshibh or Mohammed inadmissible even if it is provided.
He cited reports from prisoners released from U.S. military detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the policy of holding Taliban and al Qaeda suspects without giving them the usual rights of prisoners of war set out in the Geneva Conventions, AP said.
El Motassadeq is accused of helping pay tuition and other bills for members of the Hamburg al Qaeda cell, which included suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, to allow them to live as students as they plotted the attacks.
He admitted training in bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, and witnesses at his trial testified that he was as radical as the rest of the group, often talking of jihad — holy war — and his hatred of Israel and the United States.
He signed Atta’s will and had power of attorney over al-Shehhi’s bank account.
El Motassadeq has said he was nothing more than close friends with the others and did only things that a good Muslim would do for any “brother.”
CNN’s Chris Burns contributed to this report
Binalshibh to go to third country for questioning
September 17, 2002 Posted: 1921 GMT
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — The CIA and FBI are hoping to get key details on al Qaeda operations now that Ramzi Binalshibh — an al Qaeda operative who has acknowledged he participated in the September 11 terror planning — is in their custody.
“The first focus is to find out what he knows,” a senior State Department official said Monday.
Binalshibh, who was captured last week in Pakistan, has been handed over to U.S. authorities and moved out of that country. He is to be taken to an undisclosed third country for further interrogation, officials said.
He has yet to talk in the initial rounds of interrogation. The State Department official said that was not surprising, noting that “dedicated guys” such as Binalshibh generally “don’t spill their guts” right away.
This official would not disclose the location or even the country where Binalshibh is being held, and said U.S. investigators are not pressing for Binalshibh to be brought to the United States at the moment.
Although Binalshibh is not among the senior most wanted al Qaeda leaders, a senior U.S. official said he is a “very, very big fish for us,” a senior official said, both because he is believed to have played a critical role in the September 11 plot and because he is believed to have been in contact with senior al Qaeda leaders since then.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni national, will be questioned by U.S. intelligence officers in an undisclosed location, officials said.
Pakistani government officials told CNN that Binalshibh and about half of the others captured in raids last week in Karachi were taken out of Pakistan by U.S. officials.
“The first focus is to find out what he knows,” said a senior official who has knowledge of the investigation into the al Qaeda network.
One official also said U.S. and Pakistani agents have captured another al Qaeda operative, said to be an associate of another man who was connected with the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors. However, the operative is not known to have been involved in that attack himself, officials said.
Binalshibh had been in Pakistani custody since his arrest last Wednesday — a year to the day after the hijackings — during a series of raids on suspected al Qaeda homes in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.
According to officials, he belonged to the same al Qaeda cell based in Hamburg, Germany, that first began plotting the September 11 attacks.
He was also a roommate of lead hijacker Mohammed Atta, who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center. According to U.S. investigators, Binalshibh later sent money to at least two of the hijackers — Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi.
Khallad Tawfiq, a suspect in the USS Cole bombing, also led meetings in Malaysia that included two of September 11 hijackers almost two years before the attacks.
The arrests followed dozens of raids across Pakistan over the past months. Pakistani security forces — working in cooperation with the CIA and FBI — have attempted to track down al Qaeda members who crossed into Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.
Authorities have arrested more than 400 suspects, but Binalshibh is the most prominent al Qaeda member captured to date, officials said.
A State Department official said at the moment U.S. investigators are not pressing for Binalshibh to be brought to the United States.
Germany, which issued an international arrest warrant for Binalshibh, has said it will seek his extradition but would allow any U.S. extradition request to be considered first.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily told reporters Monday, “Wherever he is extradited depends on the country where he is. We are well advised to give the U.S.A. the first choice because the attacks took place in America. We will not make any demands (to go first).”
U.S. officials would not say how they found Binalshibh and the others, but stressed that an interview shown on the Al-Jazeera network given by Binalshibh and another al Qaeda official — Khallid Sheikh Mohammed — had nothing to do with it. “They [Al-Jazeera] didn’t lead us to him,” a senior official said.
Binalshibh acknowledged in the Al-Jazeera interview he played a role in planning the September 11 attacks and had hoped to be one of the hijackers but could not obtain an entry visa into the United States.
In January, when the FBI named Binalshibh as a man it sought, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told CNN’s Larry King that Binalshibh was one of the most-wanted al Qaeda operatives.
“He tried to come to the United States three times and we believe it could well have been that he wanted to be the 20th hijacker,” Ashcroft said.
— CNN Correspondents Kelli Arena, Andrea Koppel, David Ensor and Ash-Har Quraishi contributed to this report