One of the few men convicted over the Sept. 11 attacks is free

A courtroom rendering of el-Motassadeq at his trial in 2002.
A courtroom rendering of el-Motassadeq at his trial in 2002.
Image: AP Photo/Drawing: Juliane Garstka
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Mounir el-Motassadeq, one of the only men sent to prison because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is now a free man. He was released from the maximum-security Fuhlsbüttel prison in Hamburg on Oct. 15, blindfolded and with his hands sealed, and taken to the airport to board a commercial flight bound for Morocco. No one is quite sure what will happen to him next.

El-Motassadeq was friends with Mohammed Atta, the pilot of the first plane to hit the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. He also signed Atta’s will and had power of attorney over the bank accounts of Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot of the plane that hit the second tower. They all had prayed together in a mosque in Hamburg, which was shut down eight years ago.

El-Motassadeq, who also spent time in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, has always denied being anything more than friends with the hijackers. He still maintains he knew nothing of the plot. ”I didn’t even know they had gone to America,” Deutsche Welle reported him as saying in reference to the hijackers.

The Moroccan was arrested in Germany two months after the 9/11 attacks, becoming the first person to be indicted. After five years of trials and appeals, he was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization and an accessory to the murders of 246 people aboard the two  planes that were crashed into the World Trade Center. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he served until this week. El-Motassadeq is banned from re-entering Germany until April 2064.

Not many others have been arrested or charged with crimes in connection to 9/11.

A French-Moroccan man named Zacarias Moussaoui is often called “the 20th hijacker” and is currently serving a life sentence in the supermax facility in Colorado after pleading guilty to being part of the plot. But Osama bin Laden later said on an audiotape, “I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers, and I never assigned brother Zacarias to be with them in that mission.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of bin Laden’s deputies, was captured in 2003 in Pakistan and transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He admitted being part of 19 successful or attempted terrorist attacks, including the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, Richard Reid’s attempt to blow up an airline, the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, and many more. “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” he said through his personal representative at a military tribunal hearing, the transcript shows (pdf, pp. 17-18).

Barack Obama attempted to try Mohammed in New York in 2009, but after a wave of opposition, it was announced Mohammed—who was waterboarded 183 times in a single month in March 2003—would face a military trial at Guantanamo. His case is still ongoing. Moussaoui has offered to testify at Mohammed’s trial.

Bin Laden was assassinated by US Navy Seals in Pakistan in 2011.