Mounir El Motassadeq, 28, received the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for helping the Hamburg-based al-Qaida terror cell as they planned their suicide attacks on New York and Washington. El Motassadeq was also convicted of five counts of attempted murder and bodily harm, and of membership in an illegal terrorist organization. He becomes the first man convicted of involvement in the Sept. 11 hijackings.
During his three and a half-month trial, El Motassadeq denied the charges, claiming he is an innocent electrical engineering student. The married father of two admitted holding anti-American views, but claimed he does not believe in violence and is not an extremist. He denied knowledge that the fellow Muslim students he knew from university were orchestrating an attack on the United States.
He had power of attorney for one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi, and managed his bank account -- which prosecutors argued had provided funding for the Hamburg-based terror cell. Prosecutors believe al-Shehhi's account paid for the hijackers' flying lessons in the United States.
El Motassadeq also signed the will of Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. attacks. He acknowledged knowing several of the other attackers and organizers, but denied knowing anything of their plans.
He also admitted training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 2000, but said he took the weapons training because he believes Muslims should learn how to shoot.
"The accused belonged to this group since its inception. He knew and approved the key elements of the planned attacks," presiding Judge Albrecht Mentz said at the sentencing. "This group of Arab-Muslim students planned the attacks out of hatred for the United States and Israel. They wanted to strike at the foundations of the United States with this attack of unprecedented dimensions."
Ulrich von Jeinsen, the lawyer representing relatives of Americans killed in the attacks, said his clients took solace from the conviction.
"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."
El Motassadeq's lawyers have said they will appeal the conviction, saying their client's involvement with al-Shehhi and Atta indicated friendship, not support for terrorism, and that the evidence against him is purely circumstantial.
His attorneys attempted to obtain testimony from El Motassadeq's friends Ramzi Binalshibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, but the court could not get the men released to testify. German authorities would not release transcripts of their interrogation of the two men, saying they were to be used solely for intelligence purposes.