ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A German court today convicted and sentenced a man connected with the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was the second trial for Mounir El Motassadek. He was first convicted two years ago but that decision was overturned on appeal. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Hamburg.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
The bearded 31-year-old Mounir El Motassadek sat calmly wearing jeans and a pastel-colored short-sleeve shirt when he appeared in a Hamburg courtroom today. He had been here before. The first time was in 2003 when he was sentenced to 15 years. That verdict was overturned on appeal. Today the Moroccan national was again sentenced to prison, this time for seven years. He was charged again for belonging to a terror cell in Hamburg, but he was acquitted on all charges of accessory to murder. Speaking at a press conference after the court proceedings, the state prosecutor Walter Hemberger declared the ruling a victory.
Mr. WALTER HEMBERGER (German State Prosecutor): (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: `I think this verdict is a clear step in the fight against international terrorism,' he said. `The German justice system has shown here very vividly that despite a difficult investigative process a terrorist offender cannot walk away without punishment.'
A federal court overturned the original conviction against Motassadek because, it said, critical testimony from two key suspects linked to the September 11th attacks had been left out of the trial. In the retrial German officials put in requests to question two men in US custody, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The US government refused the court's request and instead released summaries of statements by the men given during US interrogations. But the Hamburg judge said the statements could have been obtained through coercion or torture so, in the end, they were not admitted as evidence. But Udo Jacob, the defense lawyer for Motassadek, says he believes the documents would have cleared his client, and it's not Motassadek's fault that bin al-Shibh and Shaikh Mohammed weren't allowed to testify.
Mr. UDO JACOB (Motassadek's Attorney): They say we have not--we cannot ask them questions, but this is not the fault of our client and we have only small report but it is not the fault of our client if we have not got all informations.
MARTIN: Dominik Cziesche, a political correspondent for the German magazine Der Spiegel, says even if bin al-Shibh and Shaikh Mohammed had been allowed to testify it might not have been reliable.
Mr. DOMINIK CZIESCHE (Der Spiegel): It's pretty hard to say how important this could have been, but for sure these are the best guys who could tell us about Motassadek's role and the truth. The question is: Would they do if we could question them? I don't think so.
MARTIN: The judge strongly criticized what he called lack of cooperation from the US government. Even so, the German court said it was convinced Motassadek was a member of the Hamburg cell. Evidence showed he attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, managed the finances for the Hamburg group and paid their rent and other bills while they were in the US attending flight school and ultimately carrying out the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. Sven Liestico(ph) is an attorney representing some of the families of the September 11th attacks.
Mr. SVEN LIESTICO (Attorney): (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: `We are content with the seven years,' he said, `but the fact that there was no sentence regarding the accessory to murder charges is, for me personally, very disappointing because my clients were hoping for a different outcome.'
Motassadek is the first person to be tried and convicted in connection with the attacks of September 2001. His attorneys say they will appeal today's verdict. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Hamburg.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.