Mounir el Motassadeq, the 32-year-old Moroccan convicted of helping Mohammed Atta and two other pilots organize the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, will sit in a German court today -- again -- as sentencing hearings begin.
El-Motassadeq faces up to 15 years in prison as an accessory to the murder of 246 passengers and crew members aboard the airplane used by Atta. He has admitted to training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and to being friends with Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center.
The marathon five-year legal odyssey has focused on how much el Motassadeq knew about the plot. He insists he knew nothing. But a federal court in November ruled that he did know the broad outlines of the plot, and that he assisted by transferring money and helping the pilots maintain the appearance of being regular students. The same court ruled that it didn't matter if el Motassadeq knew details like the plot's timing or targets.
Now a higher regional court in Hamburg will reconsider his jail sentence, which currently stands at seven years.
El Motassadeq's defense lawyer, Ladislav Anisic, says he will question the validity of the court. The panel of judges now overseeing the trial was assembled just for Motassadeq's case, and Anisic argues that the process wasn't transparent. "So far I haven't heard any arguments explaining the composition of this court," Anisic told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It looks like a special tribunal, which is something we can't accept."
In 2003, the Hamburg Higher Regional Court had sentenced Motassadeq -- on different charges -- to 15 years in prison. A year later, Germany's Federal Court of Justice overturned the conviction, arguing that evidence from the United States might have exonerated him. In the meantime el Motassadeq has been re-tried, and the charges against him were narrowed from accessory to murder of roughly 3,000 people (the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks) to the murder of 246.