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Suspect freed from lack of evidence now jailed again { November 17 2006 }

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Moroccan student to serve time in Germany for 9/11 role after all
Friday, November 17, 2006 - 12:00 AM

By Matthew Schofield
McClatchy Newspapers

BERLIN — A German federal court on Thursday reinstated the accessory-to-murder conviction of a Moroccan student who was an associate of lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others involved in the plot.

The court ruled that Mounir el Motassadeq, who also knew at least two others involved in the Sept. 11 hijacking, should be sentenced in the case.

Motassadeq, who, like Atta, lived for years in Hamburg, Germany, had been the first person convicted of involvement in the terrorist attacks when he was found guilty in 2003 of 3,066 counts of accessory to murder — one charge for each of the known victims.

But an appeals court overturned those convictions in 2004, arguing in part that there was no evidence that Motassadeq knew the scale of what Atta and the other hijackers were planning when they hijacked four commercial jetliners and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Thursday's federal court ruling overturned that finding, saying that while Motassadeq may not have known that more than 3,000 people would die, he certainly knew enough to be held accountable for the deaths of 246 passengers and crew members aboard the jets.

"There is no doubt that the defendant intentionally assisted in the killing of these victims," the court found. "Contrary to the view of Hamburg state court, he cannot elude or escape legal responsibility for the reason that the hijackers killed far more people than he had imagined."

The court ordered the Hamburg court to sentence Motassadeq for the deaths of the victims aboard the planes and to keep in mind "the entire scope" of the attacks in the sentencing.

Still, the maximum sentence Motassadeq can receive — 15 years — is far less than the life sentence that a U.S. federal judge in Virginia handed out to Zacarias Moussaoui, whom a U.S. jury convicted this year for involvement in the plot.

There's little dispute that Motassadeq, who remained free on bail Thursday night, had close ties to the hijackers.

Motassadeq, who spent three months at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, witnessed Atta's will and held power of attorney over the bank account of another hijacker, Marwan al-Shehhi. He transferred $2,500 to another suspected plotter, Ramzi Binalshibh, and he sent money to the United States to help finance the hijackers' flight training.

By reinstating the conviction on a lower number of charges, the court avoided ordering a new trial and having to rule on whether German lawyers should question suspected Sept. 11 plotters now being held by U.S. authorities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Motassadeq's lawyers had argued that testimony from Binalshibh and suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would clear Motassadeq of involvement in the attacks.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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