German court convicts 9/11 suspect of accessory to murder16/11/2006 - 10:41:25
A German federal appeals court today convicted a friend of three of the September 11 suicide pilots of accessory to murder for his alleged role in their plot and sent the case back to a lower court for sentencing.
In a short statement, Presiding Judge Klaus Tolksdorf said that a Hamburg court’s decision to acquit Mounir el Motassadeq on thousands of counts of accessory to murder had been “changed” and that the appeals court had found him guilty.
El Motassadeq, currently sentenced to seven years in prison for membership OF a terrorist organisation, now faces a total possible sentence of 15 years.
“We won, I’m ecstatic,” Dominic Puopolo, an American co-plaintiff whose mother died in one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center, told The Associated Press by phone from the United States.
In the Federal Court of Justice ruling in Karlsruhe, Tolksdorf said el Motassadeq, 32, had been found guilty of 246 counts of accessory to murder - representing the people who died in the planes in the September 11 attacks, but not the victims in the buildings they hit.
The ruling implied that the court found that there was at least enough evidence that el Motassadeq knew hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah planned to hijack planes, even if he did not have specific knowledge of their targets.
El Motassadeq has been free during his appeals process, and prosecutor Gerhard Altvater said his office would now consider asking for an order that he be taken back into custody as the lower court considers his sentencing.
Defence lawyer Ladislav Anisic said depending on the new sentence, he might appeal el Motassadeq’s case to Germany’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court.
El Motassadeq was convicted of membership in a terrorist organisation and thousands of counts of accessory to murder in 2003 – becoming the first person convicted anywhere on September 11-related charges. He was sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison.
However, the federal appeals court overturned that verdict in 2004, largely because of a lack of evidence from al Qaida suspects in US custody, and sent the case back to a Hamburg court.
After a retrial, el Motassadeq was again convicted last year of membership of a terrorist organisation that included Atta and the two other suicide pilots who had lived in Hamburg – al-Shehhi and Jarrah.
But he was acquitted of being an accessory to murder, after the court ruled it did not have enough evidence that he knew of the hijackers’ plot and thus could not convict him of charges based on being directly involved in the September 11 attacks.
El Motassadeq was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was freed from custody in February pending the outcome of his appeal.
Defence lawyers had appealed, asking for a new trial to try to win el Motassadeq’s acquittal, while prosecutors had argued for a tougher sentence and the conviction on charges of being directly involved in the September 11 plot.
El Motassadeq is accused of helping pay tuition and other bills for cell members to allow them to live as students while they plotted the attacks. Prosecutors have again demanded his conviction on all the charges, and the maximum 15-year sentence.
The Moroccan acknowledges he was close to the hijackers, but insists he knew nothing of their plans. He has spent a total of about three years in jail during the proceedings.
Hamburg authorities have said that, once legal proceedings against el Motassadeq are over, they will deport him to his native Morocco.
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