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Context of 'February 11, 2007: Al-Qaeda Hamburg Cell Member Zammar Is Given 12-Year Sentence in Syria'

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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. (Finn 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 (Rennie and Helm 6/20/2002; Bowers and Smucker 7/26/2002)

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. (Rennie and Helm 6/20/2002; Priest and Gellman 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.” (Finn 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)

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, an alleged member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg, Germany, cell with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, is discovered in Syrian custody. It had been known that Zammar was arrested in late 2001 in Morocco and renditioned to Syria for likely torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). However, his imprisonment had never been officially admitted by the Syrian government and his exact location was unknown. But this month, a European Union official monitoring trials in Damascus, Syria, sees Zammar in a state security court and notifies the German Embassy. According to Guel Pinar, Zammar’s lawyer in Germany, if it had not been for the chance encounter, Zammar might have remained out of sight forever. “No one in the world would have known,” she will say. (Whitlock 2/5/2007) Zammar has been secretly held without trial or charge for five years, but shortly after the sighting, he will be tried and sentenced (see February 11, 2007).

Mohammed Haydar Zammar in 2001.Mohammed Haydar Zammar in 2001. [Source: Knut Muller / Der Spiegel]Mohammed Haydar Zammar, an alleged member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg, Germany, cell with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, is given a 12-year prison sentence in Syria. It had been known that Zammar was arrested in late 2001 in Morocco and renditioned to Syria for likely torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001), but his exact location was not confirmed until a European Union official spotted him in Syrian custody in October 2006 (see October 2006). It has been reported that Zammar had extensive al-Qaeda connections and a probable role in the 9/11 plot, but he was not charged for any of that, and instead was accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This group is banned in Syria, and membership in it is a crime that is punishable by death. The court initially sentences Zammar to life imprisonment but commutes his sentence to 12 years. Der Spiegel comments, “Zammar’s German citizenship and the fact that German diplomats were closely monitoring the trial may have gone some way toward saving him from the gallows.” (Der Spiegel (Hamburg) 2/12/2007)

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national who has been accused of recruiting several of the alleged 9/11 hijackers to al-Qaeda, is arrested and detained by Kurdish fighters in Syria. (Agence France-Presse 4/19/2018; BBC 4/19/2018) Zammar is captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia backed by the United States, during its ongoing operations against the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). (Horner 4/20/2018) He is then held in a prison run by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia, which dominates the SDF. (BBC 4/19/2018)
Zammar Influenced Several 9/11 Hijackers - Before 9/11, Zammar was a well-known figure in the Muslim community in Germany. He was “an outspoken, flamboyant Islamist” who “relished any opportunity to extol the virtues of violent jihad,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. He regularly visited Afghanistan in the 1990s and met Osama bin Laden there in late 1999. After 9/11, he reportedly took credit for influencing the members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, which included alleged 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. In 1998, he encouraged the members of the cell to participate in jihad and persuaded them to go to Afghanistan for military training. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 164; Sly 11/30/2018) However, there is “no indication” that he was aware of the plot to attack America on September 11, 2001, according to the BBC.
Zammar Spent Years Imprisoned in Syria - Zammar was arrested in December 2001 while visiting Morocco and then deported to Syria (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). After being detained in Syria for several years, in 2007 a Syrian court sentenced him to 12 years in prison for membership in the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group (see February 11, 2007). (BBC 4/19/2018; Horner 4/20/2018; Sly 11/30/2018) He was released, however, in 2013 in a prisoner swap. He then joined ISIS, although he will later deny playing a prominent role in the group. He recently surrendered to the SDF. In interviews with the press later this year, he will deny having any involvement in, or foreknowledge of, the 9/11 plot (see November 2018). (Kareb et al. 11/23/2018; Sly 11/30/2018)

Mohammed Haydar Zammar in 2018.Mohammed Haydar Zammar in 2018. [Source: Alice Martins / Washington Post]Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national who was captured by Kurdish fighters in Syria earlier this year, denies any involvement in the 9/11 attacks or ever having foreknowledge of them, despite knowing several of the alleged hijackers. (Kareb et al. 11/23/2018; Sly 11/30/2018) Zammar was arrested in December 2001 while visiting Morocco and then sent to Syria (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). In 2007, after being held in Syria for several years, a Syrian court sentenced him to 12 years in prison for membership in the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group (see February 11, 2007). He was released, however, in 2013 as part of a prisoner exchange. He then joined the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was captured earlier this year by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, during its ongoing operations against ISIS (see (March 2018)). (BBC 4/19/2018; Horner 4/20/2018; Sly 11/30/2018) He is now being held in a jail run by the Kurdish intelligence service in northeastern Syria. This month, he is interviewed by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine and then the Washington Post. These interviews are the first time he has talked publicly since 2001. In them, he talks in detail about his experiences, including his association with several of the 9/11 hijackers. (Kareb et al. 11/23/2018; Sly 11/30/2018)
Zammar Admits Bringing Together Three Hijackers - In the 1990s, Zammar held regular gatherings with small groups of young Muslim men at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, which was regularly attended by future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah (see Early 1996). (Grieshaber 8/9/2010; Sly 11/30/2018) He met these three men and other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell at the time. He now admits being responsible for bringing Atta, Alshehhi, and Jarrah together. He also tells Der Spiegel that, after 9/11, he told German police that he had “read the Koran together with Atta and the others [in the Hamburg cell], and that we had eaten and gone to the mosque together.” He says the members of the Hamburg cell were “my best friends” and describes Atta as a “good guy” who had “high moral standards.” (Kareb et al. 11/23/2018; Sly 11/30/2018)
Zammar Persuaded the Hijackers to Visit Afghanistan - In 1998, Zammar encouraged the members of the Hamburg cell to participate in jihad and persuaded them to go to Afghanistan for military training. But after Atta, Alshehhi, and Jarrah returned from there, he had little further contact with them. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 164, 167; Sly 11/30/2018) “I had hardly any contact with the three of them in the two years prior” to 9/11, he tells Der Spiegel.
Zammar Denies Having Foreknowledge of 9/11 - Despite knowing three of the alleged perpetrators, Zammar denies any involvement in the 9/11 attacks. As evidence, he points out that he chose to return to Germany from a visit to Turkey shortly after the attacks occurred. If he had been involved in the attacks, he says: “I wouldn’t have come back to Germany from Turkey. I would have fled to Afghanistan or somewhere else.” He also says he had no foreknowledge of 9/11. “God knows, and in all honesty, I did not know anything about the 9/11 strike,” he tells the Washington Post. The members of the Hamburg cell “did not tell me anything,” he adds. “They probably kept me in the dark so as not to drag me into anything,” he comments. He says he was “as surprised as anyone when the attacks occurred” and initially thought they were carried out by the Japanese as revenge for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. When the names and photos of his three friends from Hamburg were released, he “couldn’t believe it,” he says, because he “didn’t think they were capable of that.”
Zammar Calls Bin Laden a 'Good Person' - As well as knowing three of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, Zammar met Osama bin Laden during one of his regular visits to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He now describes bin Laden as “a very likeable, good person,” but stresses that he never pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, even though this has been claimed. American investigators never reached a firm conclusion about Zammar’s potential involvement in the 9/11 plot and suspected that he may have been too talkative to be trusted with knowledge of it, according to Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent. German investigators were similarly “unable to prove any involvement or complicity on his part,” according to Der Spiegel. (Kareb et al. 11/23/2018; Sly 11/30/2018)


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