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Germany

El Motassadeq Convicted by German Court

Mounir El Motassadeq, the man accused of aiding the Hamburg cell which perpertrated the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, was convicted by a German court on Friday and sentenced to seven years in prison.

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El Motassadeq was convicted of membership in a terror organization

Mounir el Motassadeq, the man suspected of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers while the cell was preparing the attacks in Hamburg, was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization and sentenced to seven years in prison by a German court on Friday.

Presiding Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt announced the verdict of the Moroccan's year-long retrial hearing without stating the court's reasons for the decision.

Support of Hamburg cell leads to conviction

El Motassadeq was convicted on terror-related charges after the prosecution accused him of helping pay tuition and other bills for members of the Hamburg cell to allow them to live as students while they plotted the attacks.

Prosecutors had demanded the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for el Motassadeq, but defense lawyers sought acquittal for the Moroccan, who acknowledges he was close to the hijackers but insists he knew nothing of their plans.

World Trade Center

Plumes of smoke pour from the World Trade Center buildings in New York Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

El Motassadeq, who looked on calmly as Schudt announced the verdict, was the first man to go on trial over the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that killed more than 3,000 people. He was found guilty and sentenced the maximum 15 years in prison in February 2003.

But a German federal tribunal overturned the verdict last year and sent the case back to the court in the northern port city of Hamburg, where three of the 19 suicide hijackers lived and studied.

Attorney Ladislav Anisic said there was no evidence that directly linked his client to the plot and argued that Motassadeq was being tried simply on guilt by association, which he said was unacceptable under the rule of law in a democracy like Germany's.

"Let us not let Osama bin Laden win here at home by sacrificing our legal foundations," he argued before the court.

Anisic has said he will appeal any verdict other than an acquittal.

US not cooperating

German observers say the prosecution's case had been weakened by the failure of the United States to hand over more information on two top al Qaeda operatives in its custody.

The federal court overturned the verdict on the grounds that the Hamburg judges had not been able to hear potentially exculpatory testimony from the self-purported mastermind behind the attacks, Ramzi Binalshibh, and al Qaeda's suspected number three, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Combo Abdelghani Mzoudi und Mounir el Motassadeq vor der Ausweisung

Abdelghani Mzoudi, left, was freed. Many think Motassadeq will also be acquitted.

The US Justice Department provided two sets of summaries of their interrogation in which the two men reportedly said that Motassadeq and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi had had no involvement in the plot.

The prosecution has argued that the accounts are not credible given al Qaeda training methods in counterintelligence. But the reports and the holes in the case were enough to see Mzoudi acquitted in Hamburg on the same charges Motassadeq is again facing.

After his release, Mzoudi returned to Morocco in June under threat of deportation.

Perhaps in the hopes of a similar outcome to his trial, Motassadeq has extended his Moroccan passport and said he wished to go home as soon as possible.

After 65 hearings and 112 witnesses during the retrial alone, which began one year ago, a not guilty verdict would have been a humiliating blow to federal prosecutors.

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