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Context of 'March 3, 2004: US Secrecy Leads to Overturning Conviction of Hijacker Associate El Motassadeq'

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Mounir El Motassadeq, an alleged member of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, is convicted in Germany of accessory to murder in the 9/11 attacks. His is given the maximum sentence of 15 years. [Associated Press, 2/19/2003] El Motassadeq admitted varying degrees of contact with Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Ziad Jarrah, and Zakariya Essabar; admitted he had been given power of attorney over Alshehhi’s bank account; and admitted attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from May to August 2000 (see May 22 to August 2000); but he claimed he had nothing to do with the 9/11 plot. [New York Times, 10/24/2002] The conviction is the first one related to 9/11, but as the Independent puts it, “there are doubts whether there will ever be a second.” This is because intelligence agencies have been reluctant to turn over evidence, or give access to requested witnesses. In El Motassadeq’s case, his lawyers tried several times unsuccessfully to obtain testimony by two of his friends, bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar—a lack of evidence that will later become grounds for overturning his conviction. [Independent, 2/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Zakariya Essabar, Said Bahaji, Ziad Jarrah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mounir El Motassadeq, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Germany, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A German appeals court overturns the conviction of Mounir El Motassadeq after finding that German and US authorities withheld evidence. He had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for involvement in the 9/11 plot. According to the court, a key suspect in US custody, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, had not been allowed to testify. European commentators blame US secrecy, complaining that “the German justice system [is] suffering ‘from the weaknesses of the way America is dealing with 9/11,’ and ‘absolute secrecy leads absolutely certainly to flawed trials.’” [Agence France-Presse, 3/5/2004] The court orders a new trial scheduled to begin later in the year. [Associated Press, 3/4/2004] The release of El Motassadeq (and the acquittal of Mzoudi earlier in the year) means that there is not a single person who has ever been successfully prosecuted for the events of 9/11.

Entity Tags: Germany, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mounir El Motassadeq

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mounir El Motassadeq is convicted in Germany of belonging to a terrorist organization and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, he is acquitted of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He had previously been convicted of such involvement (see February 18, 2003), only to have the ruling overturned later (see March 3, 2004). The verdict was overturned when a judge ruled he was unfairly denied testimony for al-Qaeda suspects in US custody such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh. For the retrial, the US provided summaries from the interrogation of bin al-Shibh and other suspects, but did not make full reports available to the court or allow the prisoners to appear in person for cross-examination. The judge presiding over the retrial criticized the US for failing to give more evidence, saying, “How are we supposed to do justice to our task when important documents are withheld from us?” [Associated Press, 8/19/2005] A former roommate of El Motassadeq testified that Mohamed Atta and bin al-Shibh regularly visited El Motassadeq, and he once overheard him say: “We are going to something big. He said, ‘The Jews will burn; we will dance on their graves.’” [Associated Press, 6/5/2005] However, a 9/11 Commission investigator gave testimony that was very damaging to the prosecution’s argument that the Hamburg cell had a significant role in preparing the plot while in Germany (see March 8, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mounir El Motassadeq, Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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