|A German court has handed down a sentence of 15 years in prison to a Moroccan convicted of helping the September 11 hijackers.
A court in Hamburg handed down the maximum possible sentence for the offence of being an accessory to murder today to Mounir el Motassadeq, who was a close friend of the suicide pilots.
Motassadeq was found guilty of financing the men and helping to provide the trappings of a normal student life to them as they prepared their attack.
Motassadeq's case had been referred to the Hamburg court for sentencing today after he was convicted by a federal appeals court of the offence in November.
In lengthy closing arguments, Prosecutor Walter Hemberger pressed for the maximum term for the offence, telling the court that Motassadeq had known that the hijackers intended to use planes to kill many people and accusing him of lying and showing no sympathy for the victims. Motassadeq had denied any involvement in the plot.
The sentence follows November's ruling by the federal appeals court that Hamburg judges had in 2005 wrongly acquitted el Motassadeq of direct involvement in the attacks - even though the court sentenced him to seven years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group.
The court convicted el Motassadeq as an accessory to the murder of 246 passengers and crew members aboard all four jetliners used in the attacks and ordered the state court to set a new sentence.
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, but insists he knew nothing of their plans.
However, the federal appeals court said evidence showed el Motassadeq knew that the hijackers 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, size or targets.
The sentencing hearings mark the third time that the Hamburg court has considered el Motassadeq's case.
But it may not be the end of the saga that started with his arrest in November 2001 and has featured two full trials.
El Motassadeq 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 lack of evidence from al-Qaeda suspects in US custody.
At a retrial that resulted in the 2005 conviction, the US provided limited summaries from the interrogation of, among others, Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected liaison between the Hamburg hijackers and al-Qaeda.
Lawyers of Sept. 11 Accomplice May Appeal to EU Court
Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Motassadeq's lawyers are leaving no stone unturned in an attempt to clear him
Germany's highest court on Friday rejected attempts by a Moroccan accomplice in the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States to have his guilty verdict declared unconstitutional.
The Karlsruhe-based Federal Constitutional Court said the attempt by Mounir el Motassadeq was inadmissible.
Motassadeq, who was friends with members of the Hamburg-based terror cell involved in the suicide attacks, was found guilty in November of being an accessory to murder in the deaths of 246 passengers and crew on the four hijacked aircraft used in the attacks.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a court in Hamburg on Monday.
But his five-year legal battle is set to continue as his lawyers turn to Germany's Federal Court of Justice to appeal his sentence. His lawyers have also said they may take the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
"That will be the last appeal," Motassadeq's lawyer Udo Jacob told news agency AP on Friday.
Jacob added that Friday's decision by Germany's highest court had not impressed him.
"I still think that basic rights have been violated," Jacob said.
Guilty of "immense wrong"
Motassadeq, 32, has claimed throughout the legal saga, which saw him in and out of several courtrooms, he was friends with the hijackers but did not know about their plans.
Bildunterschrift: Gro▀ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Mohamed Atta and his friends are thought to have plotted the attacks in Hamburg
He was found to have handled bank transfers for members of the Hamburg-based cell, including the presumed ringleader of the attacks, Mohammed Atta, and to have helped cover up their whereabouts.
The sentencing hearing for Motassadeq in Hamburg this week was marked by delays as the Moroccan's lawyers filed a series of appeals to halt the process.
Eventually however the court followed the recommendation of state prosecutor Walter Hemberger who said Motassadeq deserved the toughest sentence possible under German law because he had committed an "immense wrong."
German authorities have indicated that they will deport Motassadeq to Morocco once he has served his sentence.
Motassadeq's case and the perceived failure of German courts to prosecute him swiftly and successfully have strained Berlin's ties with Washington over recent years.
Motassadeq is only the second man to be convicted of a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent who received a life sentence from a US court in May 2006, is the only other person convicted for having links to the attacks.
DW staff /AFP