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Court orders re-trial of 9/11 figure

Published on 04/03/2004

4 March 2004

KARLSRUHE – The only person so far convicted as an accomplice to the 11 September 2001 suicide attacks won the right to a new trial under a ruling Thursday by a German court.

Mounir al-Motassadeq, a Moroccan national who received a 15-year prison term for conspiracy to murder the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks, won his appeal because the United States has refused to release transcripts of interrogations with a main plotter.

Last month, another Moroccan, Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi, was acquitted on identical charges and evidence. Both men were friends of the suicide pilots, but lawyers say that does not mean they knew about the plot.

No move has been made to bail Motassadeq, who has been in custody in Hamburg since 2001. Lawyers said they would file soon for release.

Federal Supreme Court judges quashed Motassadeq’s February 2003 conviction on legal grounds, saying essential evidence had not been properly addressed.

The judges belong to one of two Karlsruhe-based courts that preside over the German legal system. The Supreme Court is the ultimate court of appeal on general legal issues, whereas the constitution is interpreted by the Federal Constitutional Court.

They noted that Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who has reportedly confessed to a central role in the plot, had not been heard as a witness, nor had information from his interrogation been available to the court.

The US has been holding bin al-Shibh since his capture in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2002.

Judges ruled that where a government’s need for secrecy conflicted with an accused’s need to defend himself, this should not be to the accused’s disadvantage.

Both Motassadeq and Mzoudi were accused of membership in a terrorist organization – the Hamburg cell, rather than al-Qaeda – and of being an accessory to the murders at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the 11 September plane crashes.

In Hamburg, a court spokeswoman said the retrial would be before a different panel of judges. A date will be set as quickly as possible but the new trial would probably not begin for several months, said Sabine Westphalen.

The witnesses heard in both previous trials will have to testify all over again, describing how the Moroccans and suicide pilots, led by Mohammed Atta, met in student hostels and were overheard making anti-Israeli remarks.

The key evidence that led to Mzoudi’s release emerged after Motassadeq’s conviction: a brief summary by federal German police of what had been learned about bin al-Shibh’s interrogation.

In the Mzoudi case, judges interpreted this as to mean the Moroccans were not cell members. Prosecutors are appealing that verdict.

Subject: German news