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Context of 'November 20-22, 2002: Germany Makes Secret Deal with Syria to Interview Al-Qaeda Hamburg Cell Member Zammar'

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Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers, travels to Afghanistan and meets Osama bin Laden. German intelligence soon learns of the trip, and even gets wiretapped recordings of some of his conversations there. Zammar has been an Islamist militant for a long time, and went to training camps in Afghanistan in 1991 and 1994. Living in Hamburg, he was able to collect about 12,000 Deutsche Marks (approximately $6,000 at the time) for al-Qaeda. In September 2000, he takes the money to Afghanistan. He is able to get a face-to-face meeting with bin Laden, in a training camp near Kandahar. Zammar is still at the training camp in early October, when al-Qaeda bombs the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). He and the others in the camp have a celebration this night. This account is based on a confession Zammar will give to visiting German officials while he is secretly imprisoned in Syria in 2002 (see November 20-22, 2002). It is almost certain Zammar is frequently tortured there. However, Der Spiegel will later claim that German intelligence is able to verify many of the details of this trip on its own, because it receives wiretapped recordings of Zammar’s conversations in Afghanistan from at least one foreign intelligence agency. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Osama bin Laden, German intelligence community

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar appears to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Ibrahim Diab, a Lebanese national, has recently been recruited into the cell. Diab makes plans to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and Zammar pays for his travel expenses to the camp. Zammar is generally considered to be the main recruiter for the cell. Diab will later claim that Zammar warns him in August 2001 to leave for the camps as soon as possible because something big is about to happen. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003] In 2002, the Los Angeles Times will report: “Zammar’s bluster matched his size. In almost any discussion, his was the loudest voice and most radical view.… In part because of Zammar’s outspokenness, authorities tend to discount his role in the Sept. 11 plot. They concluded no one would entrust information to a braggart like him.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Diab’s confession, made public in 2003, would seem to discredit the idea that Zammar was not trusted with knowledge of the 9/11 plot. And since Zammar is monitored for years before 9/11 (see March 1997-Early 2000), it also raises questions about what German intelligence might have learned from monitoring him. Diab will fly out of Germany on September 10, 2001, just one day before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). He will attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, but be arrested in Pakistan in late October and quickly deported back to Germany. He will confess his activities to German intelligence shortly thereafter, and then be released without charge (see October 29, 2001). [Chicago Tribune, 2/23/2003]

Entity Tags: German intelligence community, Ibrahim Diab, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Said Bahaji at his 1999 wedding.Said Bahaji at his 1999 wedding. [Source: Public domain]Members of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg al-Qaeda cell leave Germany for Pakistan. Said Bahaji flies out of Hamburg on September 3, 2001, using his real name. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] German intelligence already has Bahaji under surveillance, and German border guards are under orders to report if he leaves the country, yet the border guards fail to note his departure (see September 3, 2001). [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003] German agents later discover two other passengers on the same flight traveling with false passports who stay in the same room with Bahaji when they arrive in Karachi, Pakistan. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Investigators now believe his flight companions were Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete) and Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb), both Algerians in their late 40s. Three more associates—Mohammed Belfatmi, an Algerian extremist from the Tarragona region of Spain, and the brothers Mohammad Sarwar Joia and Patrick Joia—also travel on the same plane. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003; Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] Ramzi bin al-Shibh flies out of Germany on September 5 and stays in Spain a few days before presumably heading for Pakistan (see September 5, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Some of these men are reported to meet in Karachi around this time, possibly with others (see September 4-5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mohammad Sarwar Joya, Labed Ahmed, Ismail Bin Murabit, Patrick Joya, Said Bahaji

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar travels from Germany to Morocco. Not long after, perhaps in November, he is arrested by Moroccan police with US assistance. Although he is a German citizen and under investigation by Germany, German intelligence remain unaware of his arrest, and only learn about it from the newspapers in June 2002. He is sent to Syria, where there are formal charges against him (see December 2001). Zammar reportedly now claims he recruited Mohamed Atta and others into the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. [Washington Post, 6/19/2002] It is widely suspected that the US arranged for Zammar to be sent to Syria so that he could be more thoroughly interrogated using torture. The Germans are angry that the US has been submitting questions for Zammar and learning answers from Syria, but have not informed Germany of what they have learned [Daily Telegraph, 6/20/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 7/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Syria, Germany, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

With help from the US, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a German and Syrian citizen believed to be a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell with three of the 9/11 hijackers, is taken in secret to Syria. He had been arrested while visiting Morocco (see October 27-November 2001). When the German government learns of the arrest and transfer, it strongly protests the move. After his arrival in Syria, according to a former fellow prisoner, Zammar is tortured in the Far’ Falastin, or “Palestine Branch,” detention center in Damascus. [Daily Telegraph, 6/20/2002; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 6/2004] The center is run by military intelligence and reportedly is a place “where many prisoners remain held incommunicado.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2003] His Syrian interrogators are reportedly provided with questions from their US counterparts. [Human Rights Watch, 6/2004] This is alleged by Murhaf Jouejati, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University, who tells the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that, “Although US officials have not been able to interrogate Zammar, Americans have submitted questions to the Syrians.” [911 Commission, 7/9/2003] In the “Palestine Branch” prison, Zammar is locked up in cell number thirteen. According to Amnesty International, the cell measures 185 cm long, 90 cm wide and less than two meters high. Zammar is said to be about six feet tall and now “skeletal” in appearance. [Amnesty International, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is being held in a prison in Syria, Time magazine reports. According to an unnamed US intelligence source, Zammar is providing useful information about al-Qaeda while being tortured and interrogated by Syrian intelligence. “He’s like Abu Zubaida,” the source says. “He’s kind of cooperating. Or he’s cooperating without realizing that he’s doing it.” Time reports that US officials say “no Americans are in the room with the Syrians who interrogate Zammar. US officials in Damascus submit written questions to the Syrians, who relay Zammar’s answers back. State Department officials like the arrangement because it insulates the US government from any torture the Syrians may be applying to Zammar. And some State Department officials suspect that Zammar is being tortured.” German officials are angry at the arrangement, because they say they are not getting any of the new intelligence from Zammar. They also complain that they didn’t even know until recently that the US had arranged for Zammar to be renditioned from Morocco to Syria in late 2001 (see December 2001). [Time, 7/1/2002] German officials will make a secret agreement with the Syrian government that gives them access to Zammar in late 2002. But Germans will only be able to meet with him one time (see November 20-22, 2002). US cooperation with Syria on counterterrorism will collapse in early 2003, so presumably US intelligence loses access to reports on Zammar’s interrogations at that time (see Early 2002-January 2003).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Syria, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence.Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence. [Source: Agence France-Presse]German intelligence officials are able to interview Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg with some of the 9/11 hijackers, while he is being secretly held in a Syrian prison. Zammar was born and raised in Syria but later became a German citizen. He was arrested in Morocco in late 2001 and sent by the US to Syria for torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001).
Secret Deal between Syria and Germany - In July 2002, German officials met with Syrian officials at the German Federal Chancellery in Berlin. The Syrians were led by Assef Shawkat, a trusted associate and relative of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Germans included the heads of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The Syrians wanted the Germans to call off a German legal case that had charged two Syrians, one of them an employee at the Syrian embassy, with espionage. The Syrians also wanted Germany to call off an investigation into President Assad’s uncle, Faisal Sammak, for storing explosives at a diplomatic residence, which resulted in a 1983 bombing in Berlin that killed one person. The Germans in return wanted the Syrians to disband their network of spies in Germany, and they wanted access to Zammar. The Germans and Syrians struck a deal based on these demands. Shortly thereafter, German prosecutors dropped the charges against the two Syrians accused of espionage. In return, German officials are allowed to meet with Zammar as long as the meeting and all information from it remain secret.
Meeting with Zammar - On November 20, 2002, six German intelligence officials, including those from the BND and BKA, plus those from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), go to Damascus, Syria, to see Zammar. The prison is notorious for frequently using torture, and the German officials cannot miss that Zammar has been ill-treated and tortured. In fact, Zammar used to weigh about 300 pounds, and he has lost around 100 pounds. Zammar speaks with surprising candor, perhaps feeling confident that the Germans will never be able to use his confession in any criminal case because he has been so clearly tortured by the Syrians. Zammar admits that he attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He attended another Afghan camp in 1994, where he learned how to use poison and various weapons. In the summer of 1995, he fought with the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. In September 2000, he says he brought money to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda and even had a face-to-face meeting with Osama bin Laden (see September-October 2000).
Zammar's Link to the 9/11 Plotters - Zammar claims that he met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg in 1996, and met hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh soon thereafter. He met hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in 1998, and had more contact with him. Zammar claims he helped Atta, bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and hijacker Ziad Jarrah get to Afghanistan in late 1999. However, when they returned, he only heard a general account of their training and he was not told anything about the 9/11 plot. Zammar had a sense that something big was happening, because in early September 2001, many of the members of the Hamburg cell left Germany for Afghanistan around the same time. For instance, when cell member Said Bahaji left Germany (see September 3-5, 2001), Zammar and some other friends (including Mounir El Motassadeq and Abdelghani Mzoudi) accompanied him to the airport to say goodbye. The German officials realize that Zammar may not be as honest about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot as he is with other details, but they are fairly certain from their intelligence investigation that he supported the hijackers in a general way without having detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005] However, in 2003 it will emerge that another al-Qaeda operative told investigators that Zammar told him in August 2001 to leave Germany very soon because something big was about to happen (see August 2001). So Zammar may not have been honest on his knowledge of the 9/11 plot. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003]
Intelligence Cannot Be Used - The German officials show Zammar a series of photographs of suspected German militants and ask him to identify them. He does identify and discuss some of them, including German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli. Discussions with Zammar continue for three days. However, none of his confession will subsequently be used in any court cases. Der Spiegel will later comment, “The six officials [who questioned Zammar] and their agencies know full well that no court operating under the rule of law would ever accept an interrogation conducted in a Damascus prison notorious for its torture practices.”
Secret Deal Falls Apart - German officials plan to return to Syria and question Zammar some more. However, this never happens because the Syrians renege on their part of the deal, after they fail to cut back on their spying efforts in Germany. One anonymous German official will later say, “The [deal] was an attempt, but we now know that it was a mistake.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariyya, Osama bin Laden, Ziad Jarrah, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Mounir El Motassadeq, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Al-Qaeda, Assef Shawkat, Bashar Assad, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mohamed Atta, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Marwan Alshehhi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Faisal Sammak, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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