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Germany Investigates Why Convicted 9/11 Accomplice Received Prison Wages

Category: Politics,War & Conflict

BERLIN — After serving 15 years in a German prison for his role as an accomplice in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and being extradited last year to his native Morocco, Mounir el-Motassadeq was handed an envelope containing 7,000 euros in cash.

It was his prison wages — about $8,000 — including a monthly stipend.

Now, the German authorities are investigating what might have been a significant violation of the country’s foreign trade and payments law.

“When it comes to that money, we are looking into who gave exactly what instructions to whom,” Nana Frombach, a spokeswoman for the Hamburg district attorney’s office, said on Friday.

Ms. Frombach said investigators were scrutinizing who had authorized the payments to Mr. el-Motassadeq, a member of Al Qaeda and a friend of Mohamed Atta — one of the masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed thousands of people.

Mr. el-Motassadeq, now 44, is still on a number of terrorist watch lists around the world, including one compiled by the United Nations, according to media reports. And he is prohibited under German law from having any assets — whether earned before or after his conviction.

His case was brought to the district attorney’s office by Deutsche Bundesbank, the federal bank in Germany, after it noticed an irregularity. In general, it is legal for prisoners in Germany to be paid for work done while incarcerated, and payments can even be made into their state pensions. And if inmates can’t work, they receive a small allowance from the prison.

Under federal law, only the federal bank can approve payment exemptions for people on the terrorism watch list. When the bank saw that the money had been handed over to Mr. el-Motassadeq anyway — apparently by the prison — it went to the district attorney’s office.

It’s not clear what prison work Mr. el-Motassadeq had performed. The prison back wages for Mr. el-Motassadeq included a monthly stipend of €30. A formal investigation by the district attorney began in November — after the extradition in October — but the case became public when the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported on the payments on Wednesday.

Mr. el-Motassadeq first came to Germany from Morocco in 1993 as an engineering student. He fell in with a radical Islamic group in Hamburg that included two of the men, Mr. Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, who would later hijack planes on Sept. 11, prosecutors said. Mr. el-Motassadeq was accused of wiring one of them money and admitted he had attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan sponsored by Osama bin Laden.

During a series of trials that began in 2003 and lasted five years, Mr. el-Motassadeq denied knowing about the plan to hijack airplanes and attack sites like the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon building outside Washington — saying that he had helped the hijackers unwittingly.

In 2005, a Hamburg court accepted his argument that he had played no direct role in the attacks. He was charged in another trial as an accessory to murder in the deaths of only those on the planes, rather than in the deaths of everyone killed in the attacks. He was found guilty in 2007.

After serving his sentence, he was extradited under heavy guard and taken in a helicopter to the airport. Guards accompanied him on a commercial flight to Casablanca, but apparently no one at the prison in Hamburg bothered to check whether he might still be on a terrorism watch list.

The Hamburg prison authorities confirmed that an officer had been given the cash to hand over to the released prisoner.

Mr. el-Motassadeq was taken to Morocco, where he is believed to be living in Marrakesh in a friend’s villa.


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