Man Convicted of Aiding 9/11 Plot Freed in Germany
Prosecutors face a new setback a month after a court overturned verdict and ordered a new trial.
Mounir Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan,
BERLIN — The only person convicted in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was released from a German prison Wednesday while he awaits a new trial on charges that he assisted hijackers linked to an Al Qaeda cell.
Mounir Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year as an accessory to more than 3,000 counts of murder in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. An appeals court overturned that verdict in March after finding that German and U.S. authorities withheld evidence.
Motassadeq was shown on German TV smiling as he walked out of Hamburg prison to join his wife and children. His lawyer, Josef Graessle-Muenscher, told reporters: “When I went to pick him up, he was happy. Now he’s going home to his family.”
Court spokeswoman Sabine Westphalen said Motassadeq — who had trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan — was no longer considered an “urgent” risk. She said he must remain in Hamburg and check in with police twice a week. His new trial is expected to begin this summer.
The release was another blow to German prosecutors.
In February, a court acquitted Motassadeq’s fellow Moroccan, Abdelghani Mzoudi, of similar charges. Both men were students at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg and were accused of providing support, such as looking after apartments and arranging at least one money transfer, to Mohamed Atta and other hijackers based in Hamburg. Motassadeq and Mzoudi acknowledged that they knew the men but denied knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot.
The court threw out Motassadeq’s conviction based mainly on the absence of evidence from Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged Al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody. The U.S. refused to provide the German court with transcripts of Binalshibh’s interrogations. Binalshibh reportedly told U.S. investigators that the Hamburg cell consisted of only four people: himself, Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Ziad Samir Jarrah.
Motassadeq’s lawyers argued that such testimony would have exonerated their client.
German court officials were angry that Washington — not wanting to release sensitive information for national security reasons — would jeopardize such a high-profile terrorist case. The matter underscores the complexities of how to prosecute alleged extremists if wiretaps, interrogations and other intelligence cannot be disclosed in court.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the United States was disappointed by the release of Motassadeq. “We believe the evidence against him is strong, and we believe he is a dangerous guy,” said Adam Ereli, a department spokesman.
In overturning Motassadeq’s conviction last month, presiding Judge Klaus Tolksdorf said: “The fight against terrorism cannot be a wild war without rules. A conflict between the security interests of the [state] and the rights to defense of the accused cannot be resolved to the disadvantage of the accused.”