Germany jails 9-11 suspectMotassadeq for seven years
19 August 2005, HAMBURG - In what the German government hailed as "a major step forward", a court in Hamburg Friday handed down a fresh terrorism conviction at the re-trial of one of the group behind the September 11 attacks.
19 August 2005
HAMBURG - In what the German government hailed as "a major step forward", a court in Hamburg Friday handed down a fresh terrorism conviction at the re-trial of one of the group behind the September 11 attacks.
The Hamburg State Superior court dropped a charge of being an accessory to more than 3,000 murders, saying it had not been proven, but found Mounir al-Motassadeq guilty of membership in a terrorist organization.
The court sentenced him to seven years in prison, less than half the 15 years imposed on him in 2003 in a verdict later quashed.
Praising the verdict, German Interior Minister Otto Schily said, "This decision is a clear signal of our determination as a nation to combat terrorism. It will be an encouraging incentive to law- enforcement officials."
Bail for Motassadeq, 31, was cancelled and he was placed in custody. Wearing a plaid shirt hanging outside his jeans, he listened impassively to the verdict with his chin on his hand. The Moroccan is the only person ever convicted in connection with the attacks.
Presiding Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt ruled that Motassadeq had been the "polite, friendly, reserved" member of an eight-man terror cell. Led by an Egyptian, Mohammed Atta, it formed in the German port city of Hamburg in autumn 1999.
"From being friendly, nice young men, they turned into fanatics," said Schudt. Motassadeq had "gone along" with this, not dissociating himself, and had taken over administrative tasks for the group.
Three of the cell members including Atta later piloted hijacked planes that were used as missiles on September 11, 2001 in attacks on New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. U.S. President George W. Bush declared a "war on terrorism" in response.
"The complete picture shows the accused to have been a member of a terrorist organization, but not to have been an accessory to the murderers of September 11," said Schudt.
In reaction, a defence lawyer, Ladislav Anisic, termed the outcome "half conviction, half acquittal". He said the defence would appeal.
State prosecutor Walter Hemberger said the outcome was a "significant step in the fight against international terrorism".
He said the prosecution would also appeal, as "we would have liked to have got more". But both sides said they would have to study the judgement in writing before filing their appeals.
Motassadeq had to be retried after his February 2003 conviction was overturned on appeal to the German federal high court.
The bench of five judges disagreed Friday with the acquittal last year by other Hamburg judges of another Moroccan, Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi, saying that he too had been a "hardcore" member of the terrorist organization.
Schudt said the guilty verdict Friday was the only one the court could deliver "in good conscience".
However judges ignored a demand by prosecutors for the maximum sentence of 15 years to be restored against Motassadeq, who testified at his first trial but used his right to remain silent at the second.
The court said it was not swayed either way by notes from U.S. interrogations of suspected plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The absence of those notes was the main reason Motassadeq won his first appeal.
Schudt criticized the refusal of the United States to provide more evidence to the trial as a "tragedy", and said U.S. evidence had only been utilized in the judgement where it corroborated independent evidence.
The judge said the central documents of the case were the writings of Atta which portrayed "nothing short of terrorism as a service to God". This had been the "store of ideas" that the Hamburg group had succumbed to.
Schudt said the court did not believe the 9-11 attacks were conceived in Hamburg. The group, mostly students, had put themselves at the disposal of al-Qaeda, the world terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, to carry them out.
"The planning took place in Afghanistan," he said.
At the start of the trial, the case had been "a black hole", but an inquiry that included attention to the "historical context" had allowed the court to establish a clear picture of a group committed to jihad (holy war) against the United States and Israel.
Schudt termed it a "shame" that mention of Motassadeq as a radical cropped up in 1999 with German counter-intelligence agencies, but was not followed up. "At that time, no one was sensitive to the problem," he said.
Subject: German news