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Context of 'October 7, 2001: Stolen 9/11 Documents Appear in Mysterious Circumstances'

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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

On this day, Zeljko E., a Kosovar Serb, enters a Hamburg, Germany, police station and says he wants to turn himself in. He tells the police that he has robbed a business and stolen piles of paper written in Arabic, with the hopes of selling them. A friend of his told him that they relate to the 9/11 attacks. The 44 pounds of papers are translated and they prove to be a “treasure trove.” The documents come from Mamoun Darkazanli’s files, which were not in Darkazanli’s apartment when police raided it two days after 9/11. “It makes for a great story. A petty thief pilfers files containing critical information about the largest terrorist attack in history and dutifully turns them over to the police. [But German] agents do not buy this story for a minute; they suspect that some other Secret Service was trying to find a way of getting evidence into [their] hands. The question is, whose Secret Service?” Some German investigators later suggest that the CIA was responsible; there are also reports that the FBI illegally monitored Darkazanli after 9/11. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/27/2001; Der Spiegel, 2002, pp. 166-67; Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Germany, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Der Spiegel, US Secret Service, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra apparently goes into hiding in the region of Stuttgart, Germany, after 9/11. He reportedly gave details of the 9/11 attacks to the Syrian government shortly before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). The Syrians then passed this on to the CIA shortly after 9/11. According to Der Spiegel, while Sakra’s name was not made public, “For the Mossad and the CIA he [soon] became one of the most wanted men in the world.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/15/2005] In late 2005, after Sakra’s arrest in Turkey (see July 30, 2005), the German television news show Panorama will report that the German BKA (Federal Office of Criminal Investigation) suspects the German BND (Federal Intelligence Service) to have helped Sakra escape from Germany in late 2001. Supposedly, German police had learned where he was staying in Germany, but the BND enabled him to escape via France to Syria in order to prevent further investigations about him. Panorama will report that Sakra was secretly still working for Syrian intelligence and was giving them information about al-Qaeda’s leadership. Sakra will go on to mastermind a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2003 (see November 15-20, 2003) before being arrested in 2005 (see July 30, 2005). [Agence France-Presse, 10/27/2005] The Bundestag [lower chamber of the German parliament] Parliamentary Control Body will meet in November 2005 to discuss the allegations, but the session is held in secret and what is said exactly will not be not publicly revealed. [BBC, 11/9/2005] The Bundestag will later issue a short statement clearing the BND of any wrongdoing in the case. [Deutscher Bundestag, 11/30/2005] But in 2007, a book by former CIA Director George Tenet will indicate that not only did Sakra have some foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but he was an informant for the CIA and Syrian intelligence before 9/11 as well (see September 10, 2001). Other evidence suggests Sakra was also an informant for Turkish intelligence before 9/11 (see Early August 2001). If he was an informant for any of these countries, it would explain why the BND might have wanted to protect him from arrest and investigation.

Entity Tags: Luai Sakra, George J. Tenet, Bundestag, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Central Intelligence Agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Timeline Tags: 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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