HAMBURG,(Reuters) – Moroccan Mounir El Motassadeq received a seven-year jail sentence on Friday after being found guilty in a German court of belonging to a terrorist group.
It was still unclear how the court had ruled on a separate charge of Motassadeq being an accessory to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The verdict came after a year-long retrial at which prosecutors had tried to prove Motassadeq helped plot the suicide hijack attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001. He had been convicted on both charges at a first trial in 2003, but that ruling was quashed on appeal.
The outcome hinged largely on evidence from captured al Qaeda prisoners, which the United States withheld from Motassadeq”s first trial and made available only in limited form at the retrial.
Washington declined, on security grounds, to let the court question the prisoners, including two senior figures being interrogated at secret locations on suspicion of masterminding the attacks.
It released only summaries of information they revealed under questioning.
One of them, Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, said Motassadeq was one of a group of Arab students in Hamburg who had "studied jihad" (holy war and "engaged in vitriolic anti-U.S. discussions" at the home of Mohamed Atta, the man who crashed the first hijacked plane into New York”s World Trade Center. But he said he knew nothing of the plot. The defence said Motassadeq, despite attending an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, was a fumbling, naive character who lacked the intelligence required of a conspirator.
It said financial transactions he carried out for other cell members in their absence amounted to no more than friendly assistance to fellow Muslims living abroad.
Motassadeq, 31, is one of only six men worldwide who have been tried or have trials pending in connection with the 2001 attacks in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.
In an earlier blow to German prosecutors, his friend and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi was cleared of the same charges by the same Hamburg court last year.