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Context of 'Shortly After September 11, 2001: Investigators Find Links between Informant Abu Qatada, Madrid Cell, and 9/11 Hijacker Cell in Hamburg'

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Said Chedadi.Said Chedadi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Beginning in 1995, Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, Spain, begins traveling frequently to Britain. Yarkas is being constantly monitored by Spanish intelligence (see 1995 and After) and they learn that his cell is raising money for the Islamist militants in Chechnya who are fighting the Russian army there. Yarkas and fellow cell member Said Chedadi solicit funds from Arab business owners in Madrid and then take the cash to radical imam Abu Qatada in London. Abu Qatada is coordinating fundraising efforts, and from June 1996 onwards, he is also working as an informant for British intelligence, although just how long and how closely he works for them is unclear (see June 1996-February 1997). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 64-65] According to a later Spanish government indictment, Yarkas makes over 20 trips from Spain to Britain roughly between 1995 and 2000. He mostly meets with Qatada and Abu Walid, who an indictment will later call Abu Qatada’s right-hand man. From 1998 onwards, Spanish militant Jamal Zougam also travels occasionally to London to meet with Qatada. Investigators later suspect he travels with Yarkas on at least one of these trips. [Independent, 11/21/2001; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/8/2005] From 1996 to 1998, an informant named Omar Nasiri informs on Abu Qatada and Walid for British intelligence (see Summer 1996-August 1998). Nasiri sometimes passes phones messages between the both of them and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, and also reveals that Walid has been to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 265-282] Waild, a Saudi, apparently will be killed in Chechnya in 2004. [Guardian, 10/3/2006] In February 2001, British police will raid Abu Qatada’s house and find $250,000, including some marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya” (see February 2001). However, he will not be arrested, and it is not clear if he and/or Yarkas continue raising money for Chechnya after the raid. Chedadi will later be sentenced to eight years and Zougam will get life in prison for roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007). [Agence France-Presse, 1/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Said Chedadi, Omar Nasiri, Jamal Zougam, Abu Walid, Barakat Yarkas, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

MI5 headquarters in London.MI5 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]In June and December 1996, and again in February 1997, a British MI5 agent meets with radical Muslim imam Abu Qatada, hoping he will inform on his fellow extremists. Qatada is a Jordanian national who entered Britain in September 1993 using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was granted asylum in 1994.
Qatada Promises to Look after British Interests - In his meetings with the MI5 agent he claims to “wield powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” He says he does not want London to become a center for settling Islamic scores, and that he will report anyone damaging British interests. He says the individuals he has influence over pose no threat to British security, and promises that “he would not bite the hand that fed him.” He also promises to “report anyone damaging the interests of [Britain].” The MI5 agent records that “surprisingly enough—[Abu Qatada] revealed little love of the methodology and policies pursued by Osama bin Laden. He certainly left me with the impression that he had nothing but contempt for bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file; Channel 4 News (London), 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/24/2004; London Times, 3/25/2004]
Links to Al-Qaeda - Yet Qatada is later described as being a “key [British] figure” in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Around 1996, a highly reliable informer told US intelligence that Qatada is on al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Videos of his sermons are later discovered in the Hamburg flat used by Mohamed Atta. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is later convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are alleged to have sought religious advice from him. [BBC, 8/11/2005; Guardian, 8/11/2005]
Meetings Apparently Continue - Reportedly, after Qatada’s February 1997 meeting with the British agent, no further such meetings occur. [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file] However, some French officials later allege that Qatada continues to be an MI5 agent, and this is what allows him to avoid arrest after 9/11 (see Early December 2001). [Observer, 2/24/2002] It will later emerge that Bisher al-Rawi, a friend of Qatada, served as an informant and a go-between MI5 and Qatada in numerous meetings between late 2001 and 2002, when Qatada is finally arrested (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Furthermore, al-Rawi says he served as a translator between MI5 and Qatada before 9/11, suggesting that Qatada never stopped being an informant. [Observer, 7/29/2007]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada, Bisher al-Rawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell with three of the 9/11 hijackers, is monitored as he gets help in meeting al-Qaeda spiritual leader Abu Qatada in Britain. In March 1997, Zammar in Germany calls Barakat Yarkas in Spain. Yarkas is widely seen as the top leader of al-Qaeda in Spain, and Spanish intelligence is monitoring his calls. Telephone intercepts show that Zammar tells Yarkas, “I want to meet with brother Abu Qatada,” Zammar said, according to a transcript of the conversation. Yarkas replies, “Yes, I’ll talk to him and I’ll ask him.” Yarkas gives Qatada’s phone number to Zammar two days later. Zammar goes on to meet Qatada, but details of that meeting are unknown. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003] Yarkas has been traveling to Britain for years, meeting with Qatada and giving him money (see 1995-February 2001). In 1996 or 1997, US intelligence learns that Qatada is a key spiritual adviser for al-Qaeda (see June 1996-1997). Shortly before Zammar’s call to Yarkas, British intelligence recruited Qatada as an informant, although he may not be a fully honest one (see June 1996-February 1997). It is unknown if Zammar’s visit with Qatada becomes known to US or German intelligence. Zammar may introduce Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji to Qatada, because Qatada’s phone number will be found in Bahaji’s address book shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Abu Qatada, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Barakat Yarkas (a.k.a. Abu Dahdah).Barakat Yarkas (a.k.a. Abu Dahdah). [Source: Associated Press]A German newspaper will later note, “For much of the 1990s, the Spanish ran an impressive operation against a Madrid al-Qaeda cell, led by Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah. Wiretaps on Yarkas’s phone had revealed that he was in regular contact with [Mohammed Haydar] Zammar and [Mamoun] Darkazanli.” Spanish intelligence began monitoring Yarkas’ cell in 1997, if not earlier (see 1995 and After). It shares this information with the CIA, but not with German intelligence. The CIA also fails to share the information with Germany. A top German intelligence official will later complain, “We simply don’t understand why they didn’t give it to us.” [Stern, 8/13/2003] Spanish intelligence monitors dozens of telephone calls between Darkazanli in Hamburg and suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Spain starting at least by August 1998. On at least four occasions, Darkazanli is monitored as he travels to Spain and visits Yarkas and Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (who will be arrested in Spain in 2002 on charges of being a key al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002)). [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003] For instance, at the end of January 2000, Darkazanli is monitored by Spanish intelligence as he meets with Yarkas and some other some suspected al-Qaeda figures. Because the CIA and Spanish intelligence fail to share any of this surveillance information with German intelligence, the Germans are unable to see clear links between Hamburg al-Qaeda operatives and the rest of the al-Qaeda network in Europe. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] The Spanish will continue to monitor Yarkas and those he communicates with until 9/11, and in fact, in late August 2001 one of his associates will apparently make an oblique reference to the 9/11 attacks (see August 27, 2001).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Mamoun Darkazanli, Germany, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Barakat Yarkas, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In searches conducted shortly after the 9/11 attacks, investigators discover direct links between the 9/11 hijacker cell in Hamburg and the Madrid al-Qaeda cell led by Barakat Yarkas. German police find Yarkas’s phone number in papers belong to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. His number is also found in the diary of Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Irujo, 2005, pp. 150-153] Investigators also find many videos of sermons by Abu Qatada in the apartment where Atta and other members of the Hamburg cell used to live. Qatada is already closely linked to Yarkas and his Madrid cell (see 1995-February 2001). [Guardian, 8/11/2005] Since Spanish intelligence had been monitoring Yarkas’s call since 1995 (see 1995 and After), it is unknown if they ever monitored a call between Yarkas and Atta or Bahaji. However, no such calls will be mentioned in subsequent trials in Spain. The Spanish did monitor numerous calls between Yarkas and Hamburg associates Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). For years, the Spanish have merely been monitoring Yarkas’s cell. But after discovering these links, the decision is made to shut the cell down. Yarkas and others are arrested in November 2001 (see November 13, 2001). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 162-163] Qatada has been an informant for British intelligence since about 1997; it is unknown if he told his British handlers anything about the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Abu Qatada, Mohamed Atta, Said Bahaji

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Baltasar Garzon.Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Associated Press]Spanish intelligence has been watching an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid for years, and has been aware since 1995 that cell members are committing a variety of crimes in Spain (see 1995 and After and Late 1995 and After), but none of them have ever been arrested. Finally, after investigators find links between the cell and the 9/11 hijacker cell in Hamburg (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), the decision is made to shut the cell down. On November 13, 2001 Spanish police arrest cell leader Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a., Abu Dahdah, and ten other alleged members of his cell, including Yusuf Galan and Mohamed Needl Acaid. Spanish police, led by judge Baltasar Garzon, appear confident that they smashed the al-Qaeda presence in Spain. However, a number of suspects are left at large who will go on to take part in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see November 13, 2001). [New York Times, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/26/2004] Yarkas, Galan, Acaid, and others will be convicted for various crimes in 2005 (see September 26, 2005).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Yusuf Galan, Baltasar Garzon, Barakat Yarkas, Mohamed Needl Acaid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Said Bahaji’s passport recovered in 2009.Said Bahaji’s passport recovered in 2009. [Source: BBC]Pakistani soldiers conducting a security sweep of Taliban strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal region find a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell. Bahaji was believed to be close to Mohamed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers in the cell. The passport is found in a mud compound in Sherawangi village, in South Waziristan, which is said to be a local Taliban command and control base. Other documents are found showing the presence of some other militants from European countries in the area. It is unclear if Bahaji was in the village, or if just his passport was. The passport is shown to journalists on October 29, 2009, and its discovery is widely reported. Bahaji is a German citizen, and his German passport was issued on August 3, 2001. Stamps show that he obtained a Pakistani tourist visa one day later, and arrived in Pakistan on September 4, 2001. Bahaji went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan shortly thereafter (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), and investigators believe he has generally remained in Afghanistan or Pakistan ever since. He was last heard of in 2007, when he called his mother in Germany (see 2007). [Guardian, 10/29/2009; Dawn (Karachi), 10/30/2009]
Political Implications of Passport Find - The Guardian comments that if authentic, the passport provides “stark proof of what Western allies have insisted upon for years, but which Pakistani officials have only recently accepted - that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.” The passport also is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are working together. [Guardian, 10/29/2009]
Bahaji Officially Wanted by Spain and Germany but Not US - Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). According to CNN, “A US counterterrorism official said only that Bahaji is a senior propagandist for al-Qaeda who had ties to some of the September 11 hijackers and is very much of interest to the United States.” However, the US has never put a bounty on Bahaji, or even put him on their most wanted lists. [CNN, 10/30/2009]
Timing of Passport Discovery Seems Suspicious, Authenticity Is Uncertain - The BBC comments, “The appearance of the passport raises a lot of questions - not least is it genuine? For now that is unclear.” The BBC also notes that the discovery of the passport comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly criticized Pakistan’s failure to find al-Qaeda figures hiding in the tribal region. [BBC, 10/31/2009] Clinton said, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” [Guardian, 10/29/2009] One British analyst questions the “convenient” timing of the discovery after Clinton’s comments, and says the passport would need to be closely examined to make sure it is authentic. [BBC, 10/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Hillary Clinton, Said Bahaji, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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