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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

In Germany, conviction of 9/11 terrorist overturned

"Suspect" released, "going home to his family"
AP: HAMBURG, Germany - The only person convicted in the Sept. 11 attacks was freed by a court Wednesday, pending the outcome of his retrial on charges of aiding the Hamburg al-Qaida cell that included three of the suicide pilots.

Mounir el Motassadeq, 30, smiled broadly as he left the Hamburg prison where he had been held since November 2001. He walked past reporters without comment before his friends and lawyer whisked him away in a car to an unknown location.

Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq charged with helping
the Sept. 11 hijackers leaves a justice building after
he was freed by a court in Hamburg, northern Germany,
Wednesday, April 7, 2004. El Motassadeq who was
convicted in February 2003 of more than 3,000 counts of
accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist
and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in
prison is awaiting a retrial after his conviction was over-
turned by a German appeals court.
(AP Photo/ Christof Stache)

Lawyer Josef Graessle-Muenscher said el Motassadeq was returning to his wife and two children in Hamburg. "When I went to pick him up, he was happy and smiling at me," the lawyer told reporters. "Now he's going home to his family."

Explaining the decision, judges said their suspicion that Mounir El Motassadeq could be guilty of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder — the main accusation against him — had lessened. He was ordered to stay in Hamburg and report to police twice a week.

El Motassadeq has acknowledged training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan (news - web sites) and being friends with Hamburg-based hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, but denies any knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot.

He has been serving a maximum 15-year prison term in a Hamburg prison since a court in the city convicted him in February 2003 of giving logistical help to the al-Qaida cell. He was expected to be released later Wednesday.

His release was a fresh setback for prosecutions of Sept. 11 suspects after the same Hamburg court acquitted el Motassadeq's friend and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi of identical charges in February.

An appeals court last month threw out el Motassadeq's conviction and ordered a retrial starting June 16, saying he was denied a fair trial because the U.S. government refused access to a key witness in its custody.

He still faces charges of membership in a terrorist organization, court spokeswoman Sabine Westphalen said. But the original arrest warrant's "urgent suspicion" that he was guilty of being an accessory to murder was downgraded Wednesday to "adequate suspicion," she said.

Prosecutors say el Motassadeq was privy to the plot to attack the United States and helped cell members conceal their involvement while they lived and studied in Hamburg. They say the former electrical engineering student used his power of attorney over al-Shehhi's bank account to pay rent, tuition and utility bills, allowing the plotters to keep up the appearance of being normal students in Germany. They also noted that he signed Atta's will.

El Motassadeq said he was only helping out friends.
Nice guy.