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Germany Convicts Moroccan Man Implicated in US Terror Attacks - 2003-02-19

A German court has convicted a Moroccan man for being an accessory to the murder of more than 3,000 people who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The trial of Mounir el Motassadeq in Hamburg was the first anywhere in the world of a suspect in those attacks.

Nearly a year and a half after the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, one of the conspirators involved in the plot has been brought to justice.

Motassadeq, a slight, bearded 28-year-old electrical engineering student, remained impassive as the judge handed down the maximum 15 year sentence.

The court also convicted the married father of two children of belonging to a terrorist organization. Prosecutors argued successfully that Motassadeq was part of the Hamburg-based al-Qaida cell that U.S. authorities say masterminded the September 11 attacks.

Judge Albrecht Menz, in handing down the decision, said Motassadeq and the other members of the cell planned the attacks out of hatred for the United States and Israel.

Throughout his trial, which began last October, the defendant denied the charges against him, admitting to being anti-American, but saying he did not support violence. He also denied knowing that the fellow Muslim students he had befriended at university were plotting an attack against the United States.

The prosecution focused on his relationship with three of the four September 11 suicide pilots and on the fact that he made money transfers on behalf of one of them, Marwan al-Shehhi - while Shehhi was studying in the United States before the attacks.

They also emphasized Motassadeq's training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan early in 2000. Motassadeq said he attended the camp because he thought all Muslims should learn how to use a gun.

Relatives of Americans who were killed in the attacks joined the case against Motassadeq. Their lawyer, Ulrich von Jeinsen, says they will take some comfort from the guilty verdict handed down by the court.

"Everybody who attended this hearing was extremely impressed and had tears in his eyes," he said. " So the consequences for the families are, as I mentioned in my pleading, life-long. And what they deserve is justice."

But justice comes slowly. Motassadeq is the only man who has been tried for his role in the September 11 attacks.

The defendant's lawyers, who have maintained all along that he is the victim of circumstantial evidence, say they will appeal the decision.