Al Motassadeq appeals
By Hugh Williamson in Berlin
Published: Financial Times, January 9 2007 20:06 | Last updated: January 9 2007 20:06
Lawyers for a Moroccan man convicted in Germany for helping plan the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on Tuesday launched an appeal against the 15-year prison sentence handed down this week, saying they may take the case to the European Court of Justice.
Mournir al-Motassadeq was given the sentence on Monday evening by a Hamburg court, in what legal experts said would probably mark the end of a legal saga that has also strained co-operation between Germany and the United States on anti-terror measures.
Udo Jacob, a lawyer for Mr Motassadeq, said the appeal was aimed in part at forcing a re-trial with new witnesses. Walter Hemberger, a state prosecutor involved in Mr Motassadeq’s conviction, said the appeal “was unlikely to be successful”.
Mr Motassadeq, 32, one of only two people convicted for involvement in the al-Qaeda attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, was a student friend in Hamburg of three of the suicide pilots in the September 11 attacks, but has always denied knowledge of their plot.
He was convicted last November by Germanx’s Federal Court of Appeals as an accessory to the murder of 246 passengers and crew abroad the four airplanes used in the attacks. The case was sent to the Hamburg court for this week’s sentencing.
Mr Motassadeq’s case has strained US-German relations because, ever since legal action against the accused started in 2002, Washington refused to give German courts access to alleged al-Qaeda leaders in US custody who German lawyers believed could have influenced the outcome if they had reached the witness stand. The US ruled out access on security grounds, providing only partial transcripts of prison statements made by the alleged al-Qaeda men.
This problem of access to witnesses was a key reason why Mr Motassadeq’s original conviction, also to 15-years in prison, in February 2003, was overturned in August 2005. On this occasion he was given a seven-year sentence for being a member of a terrorist organisation. Charges of being an accessory to murder were dismissed.
That 2005 verdict was over-turned by the November 2006 federal court ruling. During the 2005 trial the ruling judge criticised Washington’s stance as “difficult to understand”. Legal experts said the case highlighted the problems of pursuing terrorism-related cases through civil courts.
Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, who received a life sentence in a US court in May last year, is the only other person convicted of having links to the September 11 attacks. Mr Motassadeq has already spent three years in prison ? time that will be taken into account as he fulfils his sentence, court officials said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007