HAMBURG -- The retrial of the only Sept. 11 terrorism suspect to be convicted opened yesterday with a US pledge to provide evidence from key Al Qaeda witnesses in its custody, a shift that may help prosecutors counter defense charges that the trial is unfair.
Mounir el Motassadeq, accused of providing logistical help to the Hamburg Al Qaeda cell that included three of the suicide hijackers, had his conviction thrown out in March after an appeals court ruled he was denied testimony from the US-held suspects.
As the 30-year-old Moroccan's retrial began, the Hamburg state court received a fax from the State Department saying it would provide unclassified summaries of evidence, apparently interrogation reports.
The State Department said it could not provide contact with suspects Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, or send source material used in the Sept. 11 Commission report on the outline of the plot -- which includes the Hamburg cell's formation -- ''as those documents remain classified."
Authorities think that Binalshibh was the Hamburg cell's contact with Al Qaeda, and that Mohammed masterminded the Sept. 11 plot.
''We'll have to go with what we get," chief prosecutor Walter Hemberger told reporters. In court, he insisted the current evidence was strong enough.
El Motassadeq was freed from prison in April. He is being retried on the same charges -- membership in a terrorist organization and more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder -- for which he was sentenced to the maximum 15 years in 2003.
Lack of testimony from Binalshibh or Mohammed also played a large role in the February acquittal of el Motassadeq's friend and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi, who faced identical charges.
El Motassadeq is accused of helping pay tuition and other bills for members of the Hamburg 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 Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, and witnesses at his first trial testified that he was as radical as the rest of the group.
He signed Atta's will and had power of attorney over al-Shehhi's bank account.
In the retrial, el Motassadeq is staying with his original defense: He knew and was friends with most of the principals of the Hamburg Al Qaeda cell but was not privy to their deadly plans.
''At no point did he have any knowledge prior to the attacks of the plan," defense attorney Udo Jacob said in his opening statement.
Another defense lawyer, Josef Graessle-Muenscher moved for dismissal, arguing that without Binalshibh to testify in person, the trial could not be fair.
Reading the indictment, prosecutor Matthias Krauss alleged the Hamburg cell included el Motassadeq and ''had a shared belief in fundamentalist Islamist ideology . . . with aggressive anti-American and anti-Jewish beliefs."
El Motassadeq listened without apparent emotion, and declined the judge's offer to respond.