Court Frees Moroccan Convicted In 9/11 Case
U.S. Would Not Provide Evidence At Hamburg Trial
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 8, 2004; Page A15
Mounir Motassadeq, 30, walked from the courthouse one month after an appeals court panel ruled that his first trial had been compromised by the judges’ failure to adequately consider the U.S. government’s refusal to provide evidence from an al Qaeda operative it holds in secret custody.
Motassadeq’s attorneys contend that the operative, Ramzi Binalshibh, and other prisoners could support their client’s defense that although he was friendly with the hijackers when they lived in Hamburg before the attacks in New York and Washington, he had no knowledge of what they planned.
In freeing Motassadeq Wednesday, the court ruled that there was no longer “urgent suspicion” that he had been involved in planning the attacks. Attorneys said that could result in a retrial focusing on the lesser charge that he was a member of a terrorist group.
The release followed disclosure of new evidence that appeared to support his defense. At a hearing on Friday, the court was given a letter written in 2002 in which Said Bahaji, an alleged member of the Hamburg cell who is now a fugitive, told his mother that “Mounir didn’t know anything.”
Motassadeq had been serving a 15-year sentence after he was convicted last year on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and 3,066 counts of accessory to murder. Prosecutors had successfully argued that he provided material support to the hijackers by paying some of their bills and assisted them in the plot.
But the conviction began to appear vulnerable last year after another Moroccan, Abdelghani Mzoudi, was released midway through his trial on identical charges because German police reported to the court, as required under German law, unconfirmed intelligence that he did not know of the plan. Mzoudi was later acquitted on all counts.
The U.S. government has refused to provide evidence for the cases, citing national security concerns.
Andreas Schulz, an attorney for relatives of victims in the attacks, called the decision a setback, and said it stemmed from U.S. policies that he said were overly secretive. “The German legal system can only provide based on what the input was,” he said. “This is the sad story of the first al Qaeda trial.”
Wearing khaki pants and a down coat, Motassadeq smiled as he emerged at the heavy wooden doors of the court Wednesday after a closed hearing. The judges ordered that his passport be retained and that he live with his wife and children in Hamburg and report to police twice a week pending the start of a new trial, set for June.
Josef Graessle-Muenscher, a defense attorney, said that although “we have this problem of terrorism,” the court decision affirmed that the German judicial system continues to work fairly.
[Note that Mounir el Motassadeq was later retried and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, although he is innocent of the crimes attributed to him – Webmaster]