Sept. 11 Supporter Sentenced in Germany

A German judge sentences Mounir el Motassadeq, a Moroccan national, to seven years in prison. A conviction at an earlier trial was overturned. This time, he was convicted of helping people who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The first man to be convicted in connection with the September 11th terrorist attacks has been convicted again of belonging to a terrorist organization. A German court sentenced Mounir El Motassadek to seven years in prison. He was acquitted, though, of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder stemming from those attacks. It was Motassadek's second trial. His first conviction was overturned for lack of evidence. NPR's Rachel Martin has been following this trial and joins us now from the Hamburg state courthouse.

And, Rachel, remind us who this man is and what his connection is to the attacks?

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Steve, 31-year-old Mounir El Motassadek is a Moroccan native. He has been living in Germany with his family as a student. He was arrested in 2002 in connection with the September 11th attacks and he was put on trial accused of being part of the Hamburg cell that is thought to have been linked to the September 11th attacks, a cell in which three pilots thought to have been involved directly in the attacks were said to have been members of this Hamburg cell. The prosecution was trying to prove that Motassadek was an integral part of this cell and that the cell originated its plot for the September 11th attacks in Hamburg, in Germany.

INSKEEP: Well, what's the difference between the first trial in which his conviction was thrown out and this second conviction?

MARTIN: The first trial was overturned in March of 2004. A federal court ruled that key evidence had been left out of the case. Mainly, testimony from two men being held in the United States in connection with the September 11th attacks: Ramzi bin al-Shibh who is believed to have been the link between the al-Qaeda network and the suicide pilots of September 11th and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks. The court ruled that this evidence or statements from these men was crucial for this case and they ordered a retrial which began in August of 2004.

INSKEEP: So they got the statements in the second time?

MARTIN: They did. The US Justice Department released to the German court the results of interrogations of these two primary suspects. The German court, however, wasn't very pleased. They said that it was hard to judge whether or not the suspects had been tortured in order to get them to reveal this information and there were questions about its reliability. In the statements Ramzi bin al-Shibh said that Motassadek had no idea of the September 11th plot.

INSKEEP: If the court is still concerned about the quality of that evidence, does that raise the possibility that this man's conviction could be overturned again?

MARTIN: Steve, it's unlikely that it will be overturned again at the federal level. The court is confident that they did have enough evidence to charge Motassadek with being a member of a terrorist organization and they have sentenced him accordingly and it is unlikely that that judgement will be overturned.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rachel Martin is in Hamburg. Thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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