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Context of 'December 1998-January 8, 1999: Islamist Militants Are Caught Trying to Bring Explosives into Germany'

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Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who will later be the chief recruiter for and a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, travels widely and joins al-Qaeda. Zammar was born in Syria but his family moved to Hamburg, Germany, in 1971. He became a German citizen and renounced his Syrian citizenship about a decade later. By his late teens, he developed a friendship with Mamoun Darkazanli, a fellow Syrian, and both of them joined the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Muslim group banned in Egypt. Zammar worked as an auto mechanic until about 1991, when he decides to become a full time militant, and he mostly lives on government benefits after that.
Training and Fighting in Afghanistan - In 1991, Zammar goes to Afghanistan and trains at an elite camp linked to Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He fights with Hekmatyar’s forces against the Communist Afghan government before returning to Hamburg by the end of 1991.
Active in Many Countries - Over the next five years, he makes about 40 trips out of Germany, often to countries where Islamist militants are fighting. In 1995, he fights in Bosnia with other Arabs against the Serbians. In 1996, he goes to Afghanistan again and formally pledges allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, according to an unnamed Arab intelligence agency.
His Travels Cause Attention - All of Zammar’s traveling brings him to the attention of Turkish intelligence, and it notifies German intelligence about his radical militant links in 1996 (see 1996). Knowing that his militant activity is not illegal in Germany as long as he is not involved in a plot targeting Germany, Zammar speaks openly about his travels and exploits, and he becomes very well known within the Islamist extremist community in Hamburg. He begins recruiting others to become active militants and attend Afghan training camps. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002; New York Times, 1/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Mamoun Darkazanli, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In December 1998, German intelligence finds out that the head of Islamist militant fighters in Bosnia wants to smuggle explosives into southern Germany. On January 8, 1999, German immigration officials find 10 triggers for explosives in a bus. The triggers belong to a courier who is attempting to send them to an Algerian in Freiburg, a town in southern Germany very close to the French border. However, the quick arrest means that German intelligence is unable to follow the courier and find out who his contacts in Germany are. The CIA is very interested in this situation, and heavily investigates Islamist radicals in the Freiburg area. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] This incident is significant because it runs contrary to the widespread post-9/11 excuse that German intelligence is not that interested in Islamist militants prior to 9/11 because they are not seen as a threat to attack within Germany. For instance, Der Spiegel will write in 2003: “Such missionary fanatics were not considered particularly dangerous at the time. The internal intelligence service relied on the theory that foreign extremists do not commit or prepare attacks in Germany. You don’t spit in the soup that you are eating, says an Arab proverb. The security services believed this also.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003]

Entity Tags: German intelligence community

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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