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Relatives of Sept. 11 victims
tell German court of their loss
Kin of 5 confront accused plotter in terror trial
January 31, 2003

By Daniel Rubin, Knight Ridder

HAMBURG -- Maureen Fanning was not afraid to face the man accused of helping to plot the terrorist attack that killed her husband.

"I was afraid of not coming here," the registered nurse from Long Island, N.Y., told a German court yesterday.

She packed her husband's New York City firefighter's jacket, decorated with three medals for valor, and she brought a photograph of his white battalion chief's helmet. Rescue workers found Jack Fanning's helmet last March 19, near the lobby of the World Trade Center's south tower. That's where he was last seen on Sept. 11, ushering people out of the burning skyscraper.

The charred helmet is the only evidence that has been found of Jack Fanning, who was 54 when he died.

Fanning's widow and the relatives of four other victims of the Sept. 11 attacks came to this German port city to confront Mounir el Motassadeq, the first man to stand trial for plotting the suicide hijackings. For three months, German prosecutors have argued before a panel of five judges that Motassadeq, 28, is an Al Qaeda member and an accessory to the murder of thousands in New York, Washington, and western Pennsylvania.

German law allows survivors to serve as coplaintiffs to the prosecution in murder cases. And so yesterday, Motassadeq sat in the high-security courtroom and listened to Fanning, 46, tell how she had to use pictures of her husband and a smoking building to explain to her 13-year-old son, one of two who have autism, that her husband was dead.

"The boys have very little in their lives. They can't read or write. They have no friends to ring the doorbell. They had Jack to walk in the door and smile at them, something special," she said. "That was stolen from them on 9/11."

Motassadeq listened as Joan Molinaro described what life has been like since her son Carl, also a firefighter, was killed. He died in the Trade Center's north tower, after sprinting up more than 11 floors with 70 pounds of equipment on his back.

She wanted the court to know how it feels to watch the footage of that day over and over.

"When I watch it, and I always do, I lean toward the TV and in my heart and in my mind I scream, 'Carl, run! Run! This time you'll make it out....He never comes out."

The translator had to pause to collect himself when the Staten Island woman described what it is like "knowing I will never hear my son say, 'Mommy, I love you' again."

Motassadeq listened to Michael Low imagine the last seconds of his impish, poetry-writing daughter, Sara -- a flight attendant on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

Motassadeq saw Deena Burnett, whose husband, Tom, was among the passengers who took back United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, hold up a picture of her three young daughters. The girls, she said, stuff their crayon drawings into helium balloons and release them into the air, hoping that their father can see them.

Burnett described the cellphone calls her husband made from Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.

At 9:27 that morning he called, and she asked if he was OK.

"No I'm not," he replied. "I am in an airplane that's been hijacked." He told her that the hijackers had knifed a passenger and that she should call the authorities. Then he hung up.

At 9:34 he called back. The hijackers were in the cockpit. The stabbed passenger was dead. When she told him what had happened at the World Trade Center, he began asking questions, "gathering information to help solve the problem on that flight."

His courage calmed her. "I tried to assist him by watching TV," she said.

When he called again at 9:45, she told him that another plane had struck the Pentagon. "He then told me he was putting a plan together to take back the airplane," she said, "and he told me not to worry."

She last heard from her husband at 9:54.

"He told me they were waiting until they were over a rural area," she said. "I pleaded with him to be passive. He yelled into the phone, 'No dear -- not if they're going to crash the plane. We are going to do something."

Four minutes later, she told the court, Tom Burnett, a 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound former football player, and a group of passengers stormed the cockpit.

At 10:08, Flight 93 crashed into the ground near Shanksville, Pa.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 1/31/2003.


© Copyright 2003 Boston Globe. All Rights Reserved.

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