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Context of '1995: Germans Investigate 9/11 Hijacker Atta for Petty Drug Crimes'

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According to a book (citing federal law enforcement sources) by Jurgen Roth, described by Newsday as “one of Germany’s top investigative reporters,” in this year the BKA (the German Federal Office for criminal investigations) investigates future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta for petty drug crimes and falsifying phone cards whilst he is a student at the Technical University at Hamburg-Harburg. While he isn’t charged, a record of the investigation will prevent him from getting a security job with Lufthansa Airlines in early 2001 (see February 15, 2001). [Roth, 2001, pp. 9f; Newsday, 1/24/2002]

Entity Tags: Jurgen Roth, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Mohamed Atta, Germany

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A view inside Atta’s Marienstrasse flat.A view inside Atta’s Marienstrasse flat. [Source: DPA]Hijacker Marwan Alshehhi moved to Bonn, Germany in 1996, and studied German there. He then lived in Hamburg for several months in 1998, and returned to Bonn after failing a language exam. Just as he leaves town, a Pakistani student named Atif bin Mansour arrives in Hamburg, and begins living and studying together with Mohamed Atta. Early in 1999, Mansour applies with Atta for a room to hold a new Islamic study group. Mansour is a pilot on leave from the Pakistani Air Force. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, “This in itself is intriguing—a Pakistani pilot? Investigators acknowledge they haven’t figured out Mansour’s role in the plot, if any.” On this day, Mansour’s brother, also in the Pakistani armed forces, is killed (along with 15 other officers) when his surveillance plane is shot down by India. Mansour returns home and was detained and stopped from returning to Germany. Soon afterwards, Alshehhi returns to Hamburg. According to Mansoor’s father, “Atif was detained because he had not sought permission from the authorities before returning home to attend his younger brother’s funeral.” Then he is set free with assistance from a relative and works on Pakistani air force base. Contacted on his mobile phone by a reporter, Mansour says, “I won’t be able to speak further on such a sensitive issue.” [Rediff, 7/17/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] In March 2001, Mohamed Atta applies together with a Pakistani Air Force pilot for a security job with Lufthansa Airlines (see February 15, 2001). This pilot is a member of the same Islamic study group as Mansour, but it’s not clear if this is Mansour and he did come back to or stay in Germany, or if Atta was associating with a second Pakistani Air Force pilot. [Roth, 2001, pp. 9f; Newsday, 1/24/2002] The FBI later notes that Alshehhi arrived “almost as a replacement” for Mansour. After 9/11, the FBI asks Pakistan if the flight lieutenant and squad leader Mansour can be found and questioned about any possible role he may have had in the 9/11 plot, but there’s no indication Pakistan as to whether has ever agreed to this request. [Rediff, 7/17/2002] In late 2002, the German Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations will say that Mansour remains “a very interesting figure.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, German Federal Bureau, Marwan Alshehhi, Pakistani Air Force, Atif bin Mansour, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. [Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ibn Khattab, Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to a book by Jurgen Roth, described by Newsday as “one of Germany’s top investigative reporters,” on this day 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta applies for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport. The security post he applies for would give him access to secure areas of the busy international airport. However, when Lufthansa checks his criminal record they find that in 1995 he had been under investigation for petty drug crimes (see 1995), so his application is turned down. Three days later, an Iranian citizen dropping Atta’s name also applies for the same job, and is also turned down. On March 5, a third man applies, with Atta at his side. He tells Lufthansa that he has been a pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. Apparently both the Iranian and Pakistani are members of an Islamic study group with Atta at the Hamburg university they are all attending. While the name of the Pakistani pilot is not revealed in this account, a Pakistani Air Force pilot named Atif bin Mansour is known to have applied together with Atta for a room for a new Islamic study group in early 1999 (see Late 1998-August 10, 1999). After 9/11, Lufthansa Airlines will say they can neither confirm nor deny this account, because all such records for rejected applicants have been routinely deleted. [Roth, 2001, pp. 9f; Newsday, 1/24/2002] In 2007, it will be reported that French intelligence learned before 9/11 of a meeting in early 2000 in which al-Qaeda planned the hijacking of an airliner departing from Frankfurt, and one of the target airliners considered was Lufthansa (see Early 2000).

Entity Tags: Pakistani Air Force, Lufthansa Airlines, Atif bin Mansour, Mohamed Atta, Jurgen Roth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zakariya Essabar.Zakariya Essabar. [Source: Interpol]Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar allegedly travels to Pakistan and delivers a message to al-Qaeda leaders about the timing of the 9/11 attacks. Hamburg cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh will later be arrested and interrogated, and according to a 2005 report about his interrogations, Essabar delivers the simple message “eleven nine.” Most countries around the world, including Muslim countries, put the day before the month, so this is a reference to September 11, the date of the upcoming 9/11 attacks. This message is supposed to be sent to someone with the name Mukhtar in Pakistan. Mukhtar is a commonly used alias of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see August 28, 2001), and he is in Karachi, Pakistan, at the time (see Early September 2001), so this is likely a reference to him. But Essabar apparently is unable to quickly find KSM, and he calls bin al-Shibh in Germany to say he is having trouble finding him. Presumably, bin al-Shibh loses contact with Essabar after this, so it is unclear what happens to the message. [Washington Post, 5/24/2005] However, it is unclear how reliable bin al-Shibh’s claims may be, especially since he may be tortured later. Bin al-Shibh will give conflicting information about Essabar. At one point, he claims he knows nothing about Essabar at all. At another point, he claims that al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef told Essabar to try to acquire a US visa, but did not explain why, and Essabar had no foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. But at another point, he claims that Essabar was told the get the US visa so he “could travel to the United States to take part in the planned attacks.” [Reuters, 5/21/2005; Washington Post, 5/24/2005] While it may be uncertain if Essabar delivers a message on the timing of the 9/11 attacks, it is highly likely that he does flee to Afghanistan at this time. Others will later say they see him at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in late September 2001 (see September 10, 2001). His whereabouts after then will be unknown.

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Zakariya Essabar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

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

Several al-Qaeda operatives connected to the 9/11 plot appear to have a meeting in Karachi, possibly to finalize details related to the plot. Some of the operatives arrive from Germany, via Istanbul, by plane (see September 3-5, 2001). They include Said Bahaji, an associate of the hijackers, Afghan brothers Mohammad Sarwar Joya and Patrick Joya, an Algerian named Mohammed Belfatmi who also just arrived on the same Istanbul to Karachi leg of the flight as the others. Belfatmi is said to have had a role in arranging a meeting in Spain between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 8-19, 2001). Men known as Abdellah Hosayni and Ammar Moul are also on the flight from Germany. However, these last two apparently are traveling under false identities, and it will later be reported that they are really Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete) and Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb). An informer later says both Murabit and Ahmed attended the same al-Qaeda training camp as Bahaji. All five of these men - Bahaji, Murabit, Ahmed, the Joya brothers, and Belfatmi - stay in the same hotel once they arrive in Karachi. [Fortune, 10/30/2001; CNN, 10/31/2001; Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] Ahmed is suspected by German investigators of having a “major role” in preparations for 9/11. [CNN, 10/31/2001] A Pakistani newspaper will say that, “It was, in all probability, a meeting to tie up loose ends before the countdown to the attack.” [Pioneer, 8/7/2003] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Hambali are in Karachi at this time, although it is unclear whether they meet with Bahaji and the others (see Early September 2001). The Joya brothers, who are apparently under surveillance by German police around this time, return to Istanbul on October 5 and 16. In Germany in late October, Patrick Joya will even talk to a reporter and admit recently traveling to Pakistan. [Fortune, 10/30/2001; CNN, 10/31/2001; Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] What happens to the Joya brothers after this time is unclear. Ahmed will later be arrested in the same raid that nabs al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, and he will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison (see March 28, 2002).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Belfatmi, Mohammad Sarwar Joya, Labed Ahmed, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ismail Bin Murabit, Said Bahaji, Patrick Joya, Hambali

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb).Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb). [Source: US Defense Department]Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb) is arrested in Faisalabad, Pakistan, as part of a series of raids that also results in the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and other suspected al-Qaeda operatives (see March 28, 2002). Apparently, he is in the same house as Zubaida when both of them are arrested. Ahmed is transferred to US custody two months later, and then sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on August 5, 2002.
History of Robbery and Drug Dealing - Ahmed is an Algerian in his late 40s. In the early 1980s, he served in the Algerian army for four years. He was found guilty several times of robbery. In the early 1990s, he lived in Italy and was found guilty several times of drug dealing and robbery. From 1994 onwards he lived in Hamburg, Germany, and spent a total of two years in prison for a variety of crimes, including robbery and credit card fraud. He continued to deal illegal drugs. Eventually, he became a radical Islamist and associated with members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, although when and how this happened is unclear. (Note that in 1995, Hamburg cell member and future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was investigated for petty drug crimes (see 1995).) [US Department of Defense, 9/16/2005]
Plane Flight with Hamburg Cell Members - On September 3, 2001, Ahmed flew to Pakistan with cell member Said Bahaji, another older Algerian named Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete), and others suspected of links to the Hamburg cell. They stayed in the same hotel when they arrived in Karachi, Pakistan. Information on Ahmed’s travel was uncovered by German investigators (see September 3-5, 2001).
Training and Fighting in Afghanistan, Hiding in Pakistan - According to Ahmed’s 2008 Guantanamo file, Ahmed confesses that he, Bin Murabit, and Bahaji traveled together to the al-Faruq training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, they met Zakariya Essabar, another Hamburg cell member who had just left Germany (see Late August 2001). Ahmed and Bin Murabit stayed together and trained at a variety of locations in Afghanistan. Later in 2001, they fought against US forces near Bagram, Afghanistan. Ahmed then snuck across the Pakistan border with the help of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, and lived in the same safe house as Zubaida and other militants for about a month before they are all captured. Apparently, Ahmed split up from Bin Murabit at some point, because Bin Murabit is not captured, and it is unclear what happens to him. [US Department of Defense, 4/23/2008] (Note that the contents of these Guantanamo files are often based on dubious sources, and sometimes on torture (see April 24, 2011).) Despite Ahmed’s links to the Hamburg cell and Zubaida, he will be transferred to Algeria on November 10, 2008. It is unknown if he is set free or imprisoned by the Algerian government. [New York Times, 4/25/2011]

Entity Tags: Said Bahaji, Labed Ahmed, Ismail Bin Murabit, Al-Qaeda, Zakariya Essabar, Abu Zubaida, Lashkar-e-Toiba

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, releases some files on about 750 prisoners held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. This covers all but about 15 of the prisoners who have passed through the prison since it opened in early 2002 (see January 11, 2002). Nearly all of the prisoners were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or associated Islamist militant groups. The files were written by US military intelligence officials between the prison’s opening and January 2009. They contain assessments on whether each prisoner should remain in US custody, be imprisoned by another country, or be set free. Most of the prisoners have been released over the years, and no new prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2007, but 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo in April 2011. Seven news organizations—the New York Times, The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and NPR (National Public Radio)—were given early access to the files by WikiLeaks in order to vet and analyze them. Their publication was sped up when the New York Times prepared to publish them after claiming to get copies of them from another unnamed source. The Obama administration immediately condemns the publication of the classified information in the files. [New York Times, 4/24/2011; New Yorker, 4/25/2011]
Files Often Contain Dubious Evidence - Journalists who analyze the files question the accuracy of their prisoner assessments. The New York Times comments that the files “show that the United States has imprisoned hundreds of men for years without trial based on a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past, and what they might do in the future.” Furthermore, the files “reveal that the analysts sometimes ignored serious flaws in the evidence—for example, that the information came from other detainees whose mental illness made them unreliable. Some assessments quote witnesses who say they saw a detainee at a camp run by al-Qaeda but omit the witnesses’ record of falsehood or misidentification. They include detainees’ admissions without acknowledging other government documents that show the statements were later withdrawn, often attributed to abusive treatment or torture.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] The Guardian comments that Guantanamo has been “a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of [prisoners who were] the bad, the accidental, and the irrelevant.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011] McClatchy Newspapers comments: “The world may have thought the US was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11. But [the files] not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo ‘quite simply a mess.’”
Files Dependant on Dubious Informants - McClatchy further claims that the files were “tremendously dependant on informants—both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al-Qaeda insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.” The information in the files is based on other sources, including intelligence documents and some confessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011] The New York Times similarly comments that “Guantanamo emerges from the documents as a nest of informants, a closed world where detainees were the main source of allegations against one another and sudden recollections of having spotted a fellow prisoner at an al-Qaeda training camp could curry favor with interrogators.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Files Also Based on Torture and Legally Questionable Methods - The files rarely mention the abuse and torture scandals concerning treatment of US prisoners in Guantanamo, in secret CIA prisons, in other overseas US-run prisons, and in prisons run by some US allies where the use of torture was more widespread. However, there are hints. For instance, one file on an Australian man sent to Guantanamo in 2002 mentions that he confessed while “under extreme duress” and “in the custody of the Egyptian government” to training six of the 9/11 hijackers in martial arts. But despite the apparent seriousness of this accusation, he was released in early 2005. Additionally, important prisoners such as Abu Zubaida held in secret CIA prisons were shown photos of Guantanamo prisoners and asked about them around the time they were subjected to waterboarding and other torture methods. The interrogations of Zubaida, who was waterboarded many times (see May 2003), are cited in over 100 prisoner files. However, his accusations against others have been systematically removed from government filings in court cases in recent years, which would indicate that officials are increasingly doubtful about his reliability and/or the legality of his tortured confessions. Also, many foreign officials were allowed to interrogate some prisoners in Guantanamo, including officials from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tajikistan. Information in some files comes from these legally questionable interrogation sessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] One well-known case of torture involved Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker (see December 2001). While being held in Guantanamo, he was interrogated for months with techniques that the senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trial later said legally met the definition of torture (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). His file says, “Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention,” his confessions “appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.” Claims al-Khatani made regarding 16 other Guantanamo prisoners are mentioned in their files without any caveats about the interrogation methods used on him. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Some Prisoners Unjustly Held - Some prisoners appear to be clearly innocent, and yet they often were held for years before being released. Some prisoners are still being held even though their files indicate that their interrogators are not even sure of their identities. In some cases, prisoners were held for years not because they were suspected of any crime, but because it was thought they knew useful information. For instance, files show one prisoner was sent to Guantanamo because of what he knew about the secret service of Uzbekistan. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] In a cruel twist of fate, one man, Jamal al-Harith, appears to have been imprisoned mainly because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban. His file states, “He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Prisoner Releases Based More on Luck than Evidence - The New York Times claims the determination of which prisoners were released has mostly been a “lottery” that was largely based on which country the prisoner came from. “Most European inmates were sent home, despite grave qualms on the analysts’ part. Saudis went home, even some of the most militant, to enter the rehabilitation program; some would graduate and then join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenis have generally stayed put, even those cleared for release, because of the chaos in their country. Even in clearly mistaken arrests, release could be slow.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] In 2009, the new Obama administration put together a task force that re-evaluated the 240 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo. However, these more recent assessments remain secret. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]

Entity Tags: WikiLeaks, Jamal al-Harith, US Military, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Mohamed al-Khatani, Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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