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September 11 conspirator jailed for 15 years

By Hugh Williamson in Berlin and FT staff

Published: February 19 2003 0:45 | Last Updated: February 19 2003 13:31

A Moroccan man was on Wednesday sentenced by a German court to 15 years in jail after being found guilty of aiding the September 11 terrorists in attacking the US.

The trial in Hamburg was the first to be conducted anywhere in the world against an alleged conspirator in the attacks, and was seen as a test-case for other al-Qaeda suspects.

Mounir El Motassadeq, a 28-year-old electrical engineering student, was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of 3,066 people in New York and Washington and with belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Some legal experts had thought the maximum 15 year sentence would be reduced because two alleged al-Qaeda terrorists called as defence witnesses were blocked from giving evidence by the German and US governments. Lawyers argue that this could provide Mr Motassadeq with grounds for an appeal.

A panel of five judges ruled on the case, which opened in October 2001. Mr Motassadeq admitted knowing three of the hijackers involved in the attacks but denied knowledge of their plans. He also admited undergoing military training in an al-Qaeda camp.

The prosecution presented evidence that Mr Motassadeq managed some of the financial affairs of the Hamburg "terrorist cell" led by Mohamed Atta. The defence tried to call as witnesses two Hamburg friends of Mr Motassadeq, saying they would confirm that he knew nothing of the September 11 plan.

Ramzi Binalshibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar were arrested after the attacks - Mr Binalshibh by US authorities and Mr Zammar, it is believed, by Syria - on suspicion of links to the attacks. Requests to Syria and the US for the men to appear as witnesses were denied; Germany also refused to pass on statements received from US investigators. Experts say the case highlights the problems of handling the priorities of the legal system and the security services.

Saudi Arabia has said it will put 90 of its nationals on trial for belonging to al-Qaeda in what would be the kingdom's first reported prosecution of alleged members, Reuters reports from Riyadh. "There is evidence that these 90 people belong to this organisation and their cases have been sent to court," Tuesday's edition of the Okaz newspaper quoted Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the interior minister, as saying. He said 250 other people were still being interrogated but gave no details of the charges being brought.

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