Life inside an al-Qaeda training camp

Expatica/July 2, 2003

Dusseldorf -- A suspected Islamic terrorist on trial in Germany spent a day in the stand Wednesday giving testimony which depicted the harsh and at times violent life in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

The 26-year-old Palestinian, named only as Shadi Mohamed Mustafa A., told about being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and also having met his deputy Abu Hafs and the man thought to have planned the September 11 attacks, Ramzi Binalsibh.

The defendant has already given a detailed confession to German prosecutors on charges of being a member of a group called al-Tawhid and on planning terror attacks in Germany and forging passports.

But his testimony, in which he has become one of the state's principal witnesses in other German trials of alleged Islamist terrorists, gave chilling account of life in an al-Qaeda camp.

He spoke of "brainwashing" in the camps, and anyone who contradicted the instructors or expressed doubts would be arrested as a "spy" and then tortured.

"I saw how people were beaten with electric cables and had their fingernails torn out," he said.

The defendant said that because his height - 1.96 metres - was about the same as bin Laden's he was used as a bodyguard, covering the al-Qaeda leader from the rear. His duty as such was more a "proof of faith" since there were other, better-trained bodyguards.

Mustafa A. said that compared with the living conditions of the general Afghan populace, the bin Laden clan "lived high on the hog," with members also glorifying the bomb attacks on the US embassies in Africa as being "heroic deeds of bin Laden."

The accused said there was a division of missions in al-Qaeda. While the group's main targets were the United States and Saudi Arabia, recruits from Jordan, Morocco or Algeria made up groups whose task was to attack those countries' governments.

"Everything was about the Holy War," said the man who, originally from the German town of Krefeld, made it to Afghanistan in 1999 via Mecca. "I actually wanted to study Islam, not the Holy War."

The trial opened last week at a fortified courtroom under tight security and has been scheduled to take 26 hearing days with a verdict expected in September.

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