German court bails friend of 9/11 pilot before retrial

The only suspect convicted for the September 11 terrorist attacks was freed yesterday, pending a retrial on charges of aiding the Hamburg al-Qa'ida cell that included three of the suicide pilots.

Mounir el Motassadeq, 30, smiled as he left the jail where he had been held since November 2001. His lawyer, Josef Graessle-Muenscher, said he was returning to his wife and two children in Hamburg.

The judges said their suspicion that Mr Motassadeq could be guilty of charges of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder had lessened. He was ordered to stay in Hamburg, to surrender his passport, and report to police twice a week.

Mr Motassadeq admits that he trained at an Afghan al-Qa'ida camp, and that the Hamburg-based hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, were his friends, but denies knowledge of the September 11 plot. He had been serving a maximum 15 years.

An appeals court last month said he was denied a fair trial because the US government refused access to a key witness in its custody. Prosecutors said they would not appeal against Mr Motassadeq's release.

Steven Push, a representative of families of the victims, said the decision was very disappointing. "Proper procedures were not followed by the prosecutors. I hope that they can do a better job in a subsequent trial and put him back behind bars," he said.