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Accomplice in 9-11 attacks gets 15-year sentence

BERLIN—The last remaining member of the Hamburg sleeper cell that planned and carried out the 9-11 terror attacks was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a German courtroom Monday.

"My future is ruined," exclaimed Mounir el Motassadeq, a 32-year-old former engineering student from Morocco, after the verdict.

El Motassadeq received the harshest penalty possible under German law for the crime—accessory to murder for the 246 people who died on the four airliners that crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dominic Puopolo Jr., whose mother was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, had asked the court to "consider the human and emotional cost" for the crime and deliver a harsh sentence.

"I understand your suffering," el Motassadeq later said in court, addressing Puopolo. "The same thing is being done to me, my kids, my parents, my family. My future is ruined."

Puopolo responded: "You have a chance to rebuild your life and be back with your family. Others don't. Your life is not over, but my mom's is."

El Motassadeq was first convicted in 2003 of being an accessory to the deaths of all the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. But a German federal court ruled on appeal that there wasn't enough evidence to prove that el Motassadeq knew the scope of the attacks.

A sticking point throughout the trials was el Motassadeq's contention that testimony from alleged co-conspirators being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba would vindicate him.

The Bush administration was unwilling to allow Ramzi Binalshibh, another suspected facilitator of the attacks, to testify or be deposed by German court officials. As a result, el Motassadeq was convicted for membership in a terrorist organization rather than as an accessory to murder.

Following another appeal and a decision by the German high court, German prosecutors reinstated the accessory to murder charge but narrowed the scope to include only those who died on the four jetliners.

El Motassadeq was a close friend of 9-11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah. He had signed wills, taken over power of attorney for the hijackers and wired money for logistical support, including flight training, according to German investigators.

El Motassadeq remained quiet through the five years of prosecution, until Friday, when he screamed out that he was innocent, and again on Monday, when he claimed that he was little more than a piece in a game.

"There was nothing in Hamburg," he said, spitting out his words. "You're twisting everything to fit the way you want. To you, this is nothing but a game, with winners and losers. But I'm asking you to think about what you've done to me."

Judge Carsten Beckmann, in announcing Monday's verdict, noted that, "Anyone who helped in this has deserved stiff punishment."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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