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7 February 2006
HAMBURG - German judges granted bail Tuesday to Mounir al- Motassadeq, who was jailed five months ago, the only person ever convicted of a role in the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Motassadeq made no comment to waiting reporters as he was driven away by his lawyer from the jail, soon after judges in the northern city of Hamburg had ordered his release in line with a ruling earlier in the day from the German Constitutional Court.
A militant Islamist and close friend of three Hamburg students who trained as pilots and killed themselves and nearly 3,000 others, he has been in and out of jail since 2001. The 31-year-old Moroccan has always punctually shown up for his court hearings.
Motassadeq, who was not arrested till the month after the 2001 attacks, was sentenced in 2003 to 15 years, then won bail and a retrial. Last August he was convicted anew, given a seven-year term and put in pretrial custody to wait out his second appeal.
At both his trials, judges said it was inconceivable that he did not know what his friends were plotting. They convicted him of membership in the Hamburg terrorist cell but dropped charges of accessory to murder at the second trial.
Tuesday's legal moves involved three separate courts. Motassadeq won an order from the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe that it was unconstitutional to have withdrawn his previous bail.
The Hamburg State Superior Court bowed to this, restoring bail Tuesday until such time as the High Court, the country's highest court in matters other than the constitution, rules in Karlsruhe on the legal issues raised by the latest conviction.
Technically he was in pre-trial custody till Tuesday, because under German law, convicts are not considered to start serving their sentence till all appeals have been exhausted. The pre-trial period is later included when officials compute a convict's release date.
Prosecutors' efforts to convict Motassadeq were handicapped by a US refusal to provide Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a survivor of the Hamburg cell, as a witness. Bin al-Shibh is in the custody of US officials somewhere in the world after being captured in Pakistan.
Another associate of the hijackers, Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi, was acquitted on similar evidence and moved home to Morocco.
Motassadeq arrived in Germany in the late 1990s to study electrical engineering. Witnesses said he became an Islamic fundamentalist through his contacts with radical Arab students in Germany.
Subject: German news
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