Court: Moroccan to 15 years for aiding Sept. 11 attackers |

Court: Moroccan to 15 years for aiding Sept. 11 attackers

HAMBURG, Germany – A Moroccan man convicted of aiding three of the four suicide pilots who committed the Sept. 11 attacks was sentenced Monday to the maximum of 15 years in prison for his role in the terror plot.A German federal appeals court convicted Mounir el Motassadeq in November of knowingly helping the hijackers and sent the case to a state court in Hamburg for sentencing.”Anyone who helped in this has earned stiff punishment,” presiding Judge Carsten Beckmann said after announcing Monday’s verdict. Defense lawyers said they would appeal.Shortly before the verdict was announced, the 32-year-old defendant exchanged emotionally charged words with an American whose mother died on one of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.Dominic Puopolo Jr. fought back tears and held up pictures of his mother, Sonia Morales Puopolo, an American Airlines flight attendant, as he joined prosecutors in calling for the maximum penalty. He urged the judges to consider the “human and emotional cost” of the 2001 attacks. The American man is a co-plaintiff in the case under the German court system.When the court granted El Motassadeq a final chance to speak, the slightly built, bearded man turned to Puopolo to say: “I understand your suffering. … The same thing is being done to me, my kids, my parents, my family – my future is ruined.”Puopolo said he forgave el Motassadeq, and reminded him that he will one day be freed.”You have a chance to rebuild your life and be back with your family. Others don’t,” Puopolo said. “Your life is not over, but my mom’s is.”The federal appeals court had ruled that the Hamburg judges wrongly acquitted el Motassadeq in 2005 of direct involvement in the attacks, even though the Hamburg court sentenced him to seven years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group.The appeals court convicted el Motassadeq as an accessory to the murder of the 246 passengers and crew members aboard the four jetliners used in the attacks, and ordered the state court to set a new sentence.El Motassadeq’s attorneys said they intended to challenge the sentence before a federal appeals court. They have already appealed the conviction to the Federal Constitutional Court, arguing that the court failed properly to hear evidence from other terror suspects. It is unclear when that court, Germany’s highest, will consider the complaint.Defense lawyer Ladislav Anisic said they might also appeal to the European Court of Justice.”We have a clear mandate, and that is to ensure that our client receives the acquittal,” he said.El Motassadeq was a close friend of pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah when they lived and studied in Hamburg. He has acknowledged training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and that he was close to the three hijackers although he insists he knew nothing of their plans.However, the federal appeals court said evidence showed el Motassadeq knew that the men planned to hijack and crash planes. It found that his actions – for example, transferring money, and helping the hijackers keep up the appearance of being regular university students by paying tuition and rent fees – facilitated the attacks.The federal court also said it was irrelevant to el Motassadeq’s guilt whether he knew of the plot’s timing, dimension or targets.Monday’s decision was the latest step in a tangled legal saga that started with el Motassadeq’s arrest in November 2001 and featured two full trials.He was convicted and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison in 2003, but that verdict was overturned by a federal court the following year – largely because of a lack of evidence from al-Qaida suspects in U.S. custody.At a retrial that resulted in the 2005 conviction, the U.S. provided limited summaries from the interrogation of, among others, Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected liaison between the Hamburg hijackers and al-Qaida.El Motassadeq has already spent about three years in custody, time that would count against a final sentence.Asked by reporters outside the court if he felt German laws were too lenient, Puopolo said it was “a little bit frustrating” but praised the work of the prosecutors.”It’s not going to bring my mom back, but it’s a part of a process of closure. I’m glad that I came to Hamburg.”

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