- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

HAMBURG, Germany — A Moroccan man accused of helping the September 11 hijackers was convicted yesterday of membership in a terrorist organization but was acquitted of direct involvement in the attacks on the United States.

After a yearlong retrial, the Hamburg state court sentenced Mounir el Motassadeq to seven years in prison for membership in the al Qaeda cell that included suicide pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah.

However, it acquitted him of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder, ruling the evidence did not show the 31-year-old was specifically involved in the September 11, 2001, plot.

Prosecutor Walter Hemberger welcomed the ruling against el Motassadeq, who in 2003 became the first person anywhere to be convicted in connection with the attacks. But he said he would appeal the acquittal on the accessory to murder charges.

El Motassadeq, a slight, bearded man, watched calmly as presiding Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt announced the verdict. The judge also criticized what he said was the failure of U.S. authorities to provide more evidence in the case.

Judge Schudt said el Motassadeq became part of the Hamburg cell in 1999, before its leading members traveled to Afghanistan and were recruited for the al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The court found “indications that el Motassadeq was not initiated in all the details,” Judge Schudt said. “Our impression is that the defendant is too soft for such a task.”

Prosecutors had sought conviction on all charges and the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. El Motassadeq was accused of helping pay tuition and other bills for cell members to allow them to live as students while they plotted the attacks.

He acknowledged that he was close to the hijackers, but insisted he knew nothing of their plans.

Defense lawyers criticized the lack of direct testimony from witnesses, including Ramzi Binalshibh, a key September 11 suspect held by the United States.

While el Motassadeq was convicted in 2003 on all the charges and given the maximum sentence, an appeals court last year overturned the conviction, ruling he was unfairly denied testimony from U.S.-held al Qaeda suspects. El Motassadeq was freed.

Judge Schudt ordered el Motassadeq taken into custody as yesterday’s session ended.

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