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9/11 hijackers' friend guilty of aiding murder

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KARLSRUHE, Germany (CNN) -- A Moroccan man with ties to 9/11 terrorists is convicted by Germany's highest appeals court of accessory to murder in the 2001 attacks and must return to court for a third time to receive a new sentence.

A judge ruled on Thursday Mounir el-Motassadeq knew of a plot in which passengers on a plane would die and aided in the murder of the 246 passengers and crew members aboard four of the planes that crashed in 2001.

El-Motassadeq is one of only a handful of men to have been tried in connection with the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, was sentenced to life in prison in May. He is the only person convicted in a U.S. court in relation to the hijackings.

Last summer a Hamburg court convicted el-Motassadeq of providing logistical help to an al Qaeda cell that included three 9/11 hijackers but did not convict him of direct involvement of the attacks, citing he did not know of the specific details of the plots. That court sentenced him to seven years in prison.

The Federal Court of Justice on Thursday overturned that ruling, arguing it was irrelevant whether he knew of the minute details of the attacks.

The appeals court ordered the Hamburg court to reconsider his sentence. He now may face a 15 year sentence.

Defense lawyers for el-Motassadeq said they were very disappointed and would consider appealing the decision to Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court.

El-Motassadeq has been free during the appeals process and is in Hamburg. His lawyers said he will probably not be taken back into custody before the lower court reconsiders his sentencing because el-Motassadeq does not pose an escape risk.

In his first trial in 2003, el-Motassadeq was convicted of belonging the a terrorist group and accessory to murder. He was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison.

However, a year later the federal court overturned the verdict due to lack of evidence from U.S. authorities who would not provide information linking el-Motassadeq with 9/11 suspects for national security reasons. He was freed a month later.

The case was sent back to a Hamburg court. During that trial the statements were released and helped link him to a terrorist organized, which led to his conviction.

He was accused of providing logistical help to the Hamburg al Qaeda cell that included 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah. The judge painstakingly recounted the relationship of el-Motassadeq with the Hamburg cell.

After describing the 9/11 attacks, he said, "You, Mr. Motassadeq, were a comrade in spirit."

From CNN Berlin Producer Claudia Otto contributed to this report.


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