- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

HAMBURG, Germany A Moroccan man received the maximum 15-year sentence yesterday for helping the al Qaeda hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks, the first conviction anywhere of a suspect in the terror plot against the United States.
Mounir el Motassadeq, 28, showed no emotion but occasionally shook his head or checked his watch as he listened to the verdict finding him guilty of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder, matching the number of September 11 victims.
El Motassadeq helped pay tuition and rent for members of the Hamburg-based al Qaeda cell, allowing them to live as students as they plotted the attacks, prosecutors said.
Judge Albrecht Mentz said el Motassadeq lied when he testified that he was unaware of the plot despite being close friends with suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and other cell members.
The defendant was "a cog that kept the machinery going," Judge Mentz said. He "belonged to this group since its inception; he knew and approved the key elements of the planned attacks."
Victims' relatives who participated in the trial as co-plaintiffs some offering emotional testimony that the judge said prompted him to impose the maximum sentence praised the verdict.
Joan Molinaro of New York City said she was "thrilled."
"It's the first small victory we've had since 9/11," said Mrs. Molinaro, whose firefighter son Carl was killed at the World Trade Center. "I kind of feel like, 'OK, Carl, we got one,'" she said. "I think my son is smiling."
Another New Yorker, Kathy Ashton whose son, Tommy, was killed at the World Trade Center called the 15-year sentence "a drop in the bucket, especially for a young man, but at least it's something."
Interior Minister Otto Schily hailed the verdict as a "success in the fight" against terror. "It is a warning to all those who think they can toy with the idea of aligning themselves with terrorist networks."
While suspects in the plot detained in the United States face death sentences if convicted, el Motassadeq's sentence the maximum allowed under German law translates into a minimum of 10 years with 15 months off for time served.
Even defendants in Germany sentenced to life in prison generally serve at most 15 years.
El Motassadeq, a slight, bearded man who admitted receiving al Qaeda training in Afghanistan, denied the charges during his 3-month trial. The defense, which had argued that the evidence was circumstantial, said it would appeal.
In addition to 3,066 counts of accessory to murder, el Motassadeq was convicted of five counts of being an accessory to attempted murder and an accessory to bodily injury charges introduced so five wounded survivors of the attacks, including a Navy officer at the Pentagon, could join the trial as co-plaintiffs.
Judge Mentz said it was hard to give a man with two small children the maximum sentence but that he had to consider the enormity of the crime and el Motassadeq's lack of contrition even after American co-plaintiffs told the court of their suffering.
Witnesses illustrated el Motassadeq's enthusiasm for the plot, the judge said.
"Al-Shehhi said, 'There will be thousands of dead,' and the defendant said, 'We will dance on their graves,'" Judge Mentz said, citing witness testimony.
Mr. Schily said the penalty was severe, a judgment shared by a lawyer representing many of the more than 20 American family members and survivors who joined the prosecution in efforts to secure the maximum sentence.
"They wanted justice, and they got justice," said lawyer Ulrich von Jeinsen. "They accept that we have another system, and since he got the maximum sentence they will be satisfied."
Stephen Push, whose wife was killed in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, also praised the Hamburg judges but added, "I'm just disappointed that the German legal system doesn't allow for penalties that are appropriate for crimes of this nature."
El Motassadeq was raised in a Moroccan middle-class family, came to Germany as a student in 1993 and married a Russian woman. By 1995, he was studying electrical engineering in Hamburg, where he is believed to have first met Atta no later than the following year.
He acknowledged being friends with Atta, Al-Shehhi and other suspected members of the Hamburg cell, including suicide pilot Ziad Samir Jarrah and Ramzi Binalshibh, Said Bahaji and Zakariya Essabar, all suspected of helping organize the cell.
Witnesses said el Motassadeq was as radical as the rest of the group, often talking of jihad holy war and his hatred of Israel and the United States.
Meanwhile, an unsealed court record in Chicago yesterday shows that U.S. authorities recovered a list of 20 financiers they suspect funneled money to Osama bin Laden and others extremist Muslim causes.
Evidence seized in March 2002 from the Bosnian offices of the Benevolence International Foundation, an Illinois-based Muslim charity, also includes handwritten correspondence to and from bin Laden and documents detailing the origins, growth and expansion of al Qaeda in the 1980s and 1990s, the filing said.
The head of the foundation, Enaam Arnaout, pleaded guilty last week to illegally buying boots and uniforms for fighting forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya under a deal in which prosecutors, in exchange for his cooperation, dropped charges that he aided bin Laden.

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