Mounir el-Montassadeq, one of two arrested following the 9/11 terrorist attacks was released yesterday to a suburb in Marrakesh, Morocco, where he met with his wife and children, and received a hero’s welcome from people all over the region. When his sister was asked about his release, she shouted “hamdullah”-the Arabic phrase for “praise be to God”.
El-Motassadeq has recently been deported back from Germany where he was facing a 15-year prison sentence. As he arrived, the Daily Mail documented Mounir being cheered as he returned from his prayer at the mosque.
El-Motassadeq was released on October 15th before his 15-year sentence on the condition that he will be deported to Morocco. This gives German authorities the right to re-arrest him if he ever returns.
Escorted by special forces officers and snipers, he was blindfolded and shackled as he boarded a Puma helicopter from Fuhlsbuttel prison in Hamburg to Frankfurt.
He was flown on Royal Air Maroc flight AT811 to Casablanca the same evening.
Pictures taken on board showed him smiling as he sat in seat 31E during the commercial flight, flanked by two federal police officers.
Neighbours claimed they were “very happy” to have Mounir home. One of them was Hayet, a former model for Louis Vitton, who claimed there were joyful scenes all throughout the city on Friday.
“We are very happy. The neighbours weren’t afraid to find out he was back. During the first and second day after he was released the streets were full of people coming to see him. His family were coming from different cities to greet him. They were really happy that he is back. His mum was crying tears of joy. His siblings were really happy.”
She continued: “We have been neighbours for years. I knew him before he went to Germany. He goes to the mosque to pray. There’s nothing suspicious. People come and see him and sleep over at his house.”
Hayet was insistent that El-Motassadeq was “very well brought up’ and did not believe he was guilty of anything wrong.
“I understand he was just friends with people who did.”
The 44-year old, is described by German court filings as the “treasurer” for the 9/11 hijackers. Spending less than 15 years for taking part in a terrorist act aimed at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, killing 2,977 people on September 2001.
His role in the September 11nth attacks was investigated for five years in trials that saw multiple convictions, appeals, and overturned verdicts.
El-Motassadeq had arrived in Germany as a 19-year-old student in 1993, and studied electrical engineering at Hamburg’s Technical University. German prosecutors suspect he met Mohammed Atta there and became close with him as Atta founded a radical Islamic group associated with Al Qaeda.
El-Motassadeq was arrested in Germany just two months after 9/11. Investigators found out that he had power of attorney over a bank account owned by Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot of one of the two planes hit the Twin Towers.
He also reportedly assisted in facilitating a bank transfer for some of the hijackers and knew when they were in the US acquiring their flight training. He also helped “watch the attacker’s backs and conceal them” by paying their tuition and rent transfer fees.
El-Motassadeq insisted that he knew nothing of the plots, exclaiming in German at his sentence hearing: “I swear by God I did not know what they wanted to do.”
However, he did admit to spending time at an Al Qaeda training camp that had been sponsored by Bin Laden in 2000.
This information allowed prosecutors to implicate him as an accomplice in the attacks. He was first convicted in 2003 for being a member of a terrorist organization and on 3,066 counts of accessory to murder (related to the victim’s deaths on 9/11). Following multiple overturned verdicts and appeals he was finally sentenced in 2006, on a number of counts limited to the 246 people murdered aboard the 4 planes.
The courts ruled that he was fully aware that Atta, Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah (3 of the 9/11 hijackers) were going to hijack the plane, even if he didn’t know the full extent of the operation.
As for Zacarias Moussaoui, the second man charged for aiding and abetting the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is currently serving six life sentences at a US federal penitentiary.
The government made over 1,200 arrests in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But other suspects suspected of being involved in the attacks have remained unconfirmed. The only other man to be convicted in the attack is Zacarias Moussaoui, who is currently serving six life sentences at a federal penitentiary.
El-Motassadeq is barred from re-entering Germany until 2064. Hamburg’s interior minister Andy Grote said: ‘It’s a good feeling to know that Mr. Motassadeq is out of the country.’