9/11 Detainee Released on Bail

HAMBURG, Germany -- The only Sept. 11 suspect ever convicted was freed by a court Wednesday, pending the outcome of his retrial on charges of aiding the Hamburg al-Qaida cell that included three of the suicide pilots.

Mounir el Motassadeq, 30, smiled broadly as he left the Hamburg prison where he had been held since November 2001. He walked past waiting reporters without saying a word and was escorted by friends and his lawyer to a car that whisked him away.

Lawyer Josef Graessle-Muenscher said el Motassadeq was returning to his wife and two children in Hamburg.

"When I went to pick him up, he was happy and smiling at me," the lawyer told reporters. "Now he's going home to his family."

Explaining their decision, the Hamburg judges said their suspicion that el Motassadeq could be guilty of pending charges of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder had lessened. He was ordered to stay in Hamburg and report to the police twice a week.

El Motassadeq, 30, has acknowledged training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and being friends with Hamburg-based hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, but he has denied any knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot.

He has been serving a maximum 15-year prison term in a Hamburg prison since a court in the city convicted him in February 2003 of giving logistical help to the Hamburg al-Qaida cell. He was expected to be released later Wednesday.

The decision was a fresh setback for prosecutions of Sept. 11 suspects after the same Hamburg court acquitted el Motassadeq's friend and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi of identical charges in February. An appeals court last month threw out el Motassadeq's conviction and ordered a retrial starting June 16, saying he was denied a fair trial because the U.S. government refused access to a key witness in its custody.

He faces unchanged charges of membership in a terrorist organization, court spokeswoman Sabine Westphalen said. But the original arrest warrant's "urgent suspicion" that he was guilty of being an accessory to murder was downgraded Wednesday to "adequate suspicion," she said.

Prosecutors allege el Motassadeq was privy to the plot to attack the United States and helped cell members conceal their involvement while they lived and studied in Hamburg.

Prosecutors say the former electrical engineering student took care of financial matters for alleged cell member Zakariya Essabar. He also is accused of helping cell members elude the watch of authorities by finding them a room in student housing and allowing al-Shehhi and Atta to use his Hamburg mailing address while they took flying lessons in the United States.

The federal court that threw out his conviction last month cited the absence of testimony by Ramzi Binalshibh. The Yemeni, captured in Pakistan on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, is believed to have been the Hamburg cell's main contact with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Binalshibh might be able to testify that el Motassadeq knew nothing of the plot, the Moroccan's lawyers say.