Skip to comments.Ressam at times defiant in 2 days of questioning (Religion of Peace update)
Posted on 12/19/2002 9:17:32 PM PST by Abar
Ressam at times defiant in 2 days of questioning
By Mike Carter Seattle Times staff reporter
After more than a year of cooperating with federal prosecutors, Ahmed Ressam has become a sometimes difficult and defiant government witness.
Ressam was at times surly and evasive during two days of closed-door questioning this week in Seattle by German lawyers who need his help prosecuting Mounir el-Motassadeq, a Moroccan accused of helping the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
Ressam, convicted of conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, might be endangering his deal with federal prosecutors to serve as few as 27 years of a possible 130-year prison term, federal sources said. Ressam has admitted he intended to plant a powerful suitcase bomb in Los Angeles International Airport. He will be sentenced in the spring.
"He pretends to still be a jihad warrior, yet he must cooperate and betray jihad and Islam to save himself," said Andreas Schulz, a Hamburg lawyer representing the interests of Sept. 11 victims' families. "You can see the conflict in his face."
There was at least one surprise in Ressam's testimony, according to the German lawyers: Ressam said Saudi Arabia had funded "certain activities" in the Afghan terrorist-training camps. "That was something of a revelation," Schultz said.
Most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis, and Congress recently has asked the Justice Department to investigate Saudi ties to the attacks. German police are investigating whether el-Motassadeq had met with a Saudi diplomat in Berlin.
Ressam, described as pale, has grown a beard in prison and become devoutly religious. At one point Tuesday, questioning was halted so he could kneel and pray to Mecca. Devout Muslims are required to pray five times a day.
Asked if he understood the penalties for his crimes, Ressam replied that his punishment was "in Allah's hands."
Otherwise, he was evasive and suffering from "a convenient loss of memory" when difficult questions were posed, Schulz said.
At these points, Ressam was forcefully reminded of his agreement with the U.S. government and the consequences for breaking it, said several lawyers at the closed questioning.
Ressam's lawyer, Tom Hillier, a federal public defender, said that Ressam, after three years in prison isolation and finding himself suddenly thrust into a courtroom, was disoriented and probably resentful. Hillier insisted his client has lived up to his agreement with the government.
"This man is an incredibly courageous person, and I have huge admiration for him," Hillier said.
However, at one point Tuesday, Ressam's questioning was postponed so that his handlers from the U.S. Attorney's Office could warn him that he was putting himself in a precarious position, the German lawyers and other observers confirmed.
His cooperation improved yesterday. "He was extremely helpful," said Ulrich Jeinsen, another German lawyer representing the Sept. 11 families.
Ressam, a 35-year-old Algerian, was arrested in Port Angeles on Dec. 14, 1999, as he got off a ferry from Canada. His rental car was loaded with explosives.
Schulz and Jeinsen were among an entourage of lawyers and judges from Hamburg who came to Seattle to question him about his experiences at Osama bin Laden's terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan. The information will be presented at the ongoing trial of el-Motassadeq, the first defendant to be tried for the Sept. 11 attacks.
El-Motassadeq, 29, is charged with nearly 3,000 counts of homicide for allegedly providing money and logistics to terrorist Mohamed Atta and others in the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg.
The German court system allows crime victims to participate in the trial, and a group called the Families of Sept. 11 have retained Schulz and Jeinsen. They work in concert with German prosecutors and can introduce evidence and question witnesses.
Ressam's testimony this week was consistent with information in a lengthy classified FBI document previously obtained by The Seattle Times that indicates he did not know of the Sept. 11 attack or its suicide plotters.
Ressam, however, has identified Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker," as someone he saw at the Khalden terrorist camp in 1998. In a trial against a co-conspirator in New York in June 2001, Ressam described a contingent of German recruits at Khalden in 1998.
As a witness in 2001, the then-clean-shaven Ressam was so forthcoming that the defendant in the case, his former friend Mohktar Haouari, became so angry that he banged his own head repeatedly on the table at Ressam's damning testimony.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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