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Context of 'Late August 2001: Al-Qaeda Hamburg Cell Member Goes to Pakistan, Possibly Tells KSM about Timing of 9/11 Attacks'

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In April 2001, the CIA analyzed some “intriguing information associated with a person known as ‘Mukhtar.’” The CIA didn’t know who this was at the time, only that he was associated with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida and that he seemed to be involved in planning al-Qaeda activities. On August 28, 2001, the CIA receives a cable reporting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has the nickname of Mukhtar (which means “brain” in Arabic). However, apparently no one at the CIA’s bin Laden unit makes the connection between this new information and the April 2001 information. The 9/11 Commission writes, “Only after 9/11 would it be discovered that Muhktar/KSM had communicated with a phone that was used by [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and that bin al-Shibh had used the same phone to communicate with [Zacarias] Moussaoui [who is in US custody by this time.]” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ramzi Yousef, Alec Station, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

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

A courtroom sketch of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah.A courtroom sketch of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah. [Source: Andrea Shepard / Associated Press]Hambali, a top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia, appears aware of the date of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, a young Canadian citizen who recently joined al-Qaeda, meets Hambali in Karachi, Pakistan, to get instructions in carrying out an attack in Southeast Asia. Hambali tells him, “Make sure you leave before Tuesday” - September 11. Jabarah does heed the warning and flies to Southeast Asian on September 10. He will be arrested in 2002 and deported to Canada, where he will make a full confession about his al-Qaeda contacts (including an unheeded warning about the October 2002 Bali bombings (see August 21, 2002). [National Post, 1/18/2003] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is also in Karachi and working with Jabarah and Hambali on future Southeast Asian plots, and KSM also warns Jabarah to travel before September 11. [CBC News, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, Hambali, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to a later interview with would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a courier sent by bin al-Shibh tells Osama bin Laden on this day when the 9/11 attacks will take place. [Australian, 9/9/2002] However, there are doubts about this interview (see April, June, or August 2002). The message may have been taken from bin al-Shibh in Germany to Pakistan by al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar (see Late August 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Zakariya Essabar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two peripheral members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, leave Germany to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Ibrahim Diab, a Lebanese national, and Bechim Ademi, a naturalized German, are said to be recent al-Qaeda recruits. They have been attending the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg also attended by many of the cell members. They will later claim that cell members Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar convinced them to go to Afghanistan for training (and Zammar paid for at least Diab’s ticket (see August 2001). By September 23, 2001, they will have reached a training camp near Kabul and begun weapons training. They will recognize Hamburg cell members Zakariya Essabar and Said Bahaji at the camp. Bahaji left Germany for Afghanistan in early September 2001 (see September 3-5, 2001) and Essabar made a similar trip around the same time (see Late August 2001). Essabar stays with the camp’s leaders and seems to have an important position. Diab and Ademi will be arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 (see October 29, 2001). [Chicago Tribune, 2/23/2003] They will be sent back to Germany in November 2001, after pressure by the German government. They will be interrogated by German officials and reveal the information mentioned above. However, they will be released and not charged with any crime. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/20/2004] It is unclear if the timing of their departure from Germany one day before the 9/11 attacks shows foreknowledge of the attacks or if it is just a coincidence.

Entity Tags: Zakariya Essabar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ibrahim Diab, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Al-Qaeda, Bechim Ademi, Said Bahaji

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The German government issues an international arrest warrant for Zakariya Essabar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the 9/11 hijackers. Essabar left Germany to fly to Pakistan in late August 2001 (see Late August 2001). This is the third 9/11-related international warrant issued by Germany, following warrants for cell members Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Said Bahaji issued in late September 2001 (see September 21, 2001). [CNN, 10/19/2001] Essabar was seen in an al-Qaeda training camp in late September 2001 (see September 10, 2001). He has not been heard of since.

Entity Tags: Zakariya Essabar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

German investigators believe they know of nine people who are still living and who played roles in assisting the 9/11 plot, the Chicago Tribune reports. An unnamed senior German intelligence official says he believes these nine cover everyone linked to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell who helped plan, finance, or carry out the plot. However, he says “there may be people still in Hamburg who had a certain knowledge” of the plot. The nine are:
bullet Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni. He is considered the head of the 9/11 plot in Germany while the hijackers were living in the US. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and put in the secret CIA prison system (see September 11, 2002).
bullet Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan. He knew the others in the Hamburg cell and trained in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000). He has been arrested and charged with a role in the 9/11 plot. He will later be convicted (see January 8, 2007).
bullet Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan. Mzoudi lived with Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg cell, and he is alleged to have attended a training camp in Afghanistan in 2000 (see Summer 2000). He has been arrested in Germany and charged with a role in the 9/11 attacks. He will later be acquitted after the US fails to cooperate with German prosecutors (see February 5, 2004-June 8, 2005).
bullet Barakat Yarkas, a Spaniard. He is alleged to be the leader of al-Qaeda in Spain. Germans believe he helped arrange a meeting between Atta and bin al-Shibh in Spain two months before 9/11 (see July 8-19, 2001). He is imprisoned in Spain on various terrorism charges. He will later be convicted to 12 years in prison, but not for any role in 9/11 (see September 26, 2005).
bullet Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Moroccan. He was investigated for al-Qaeda ties for years prior to 9/11. He was captured in Morocco after 9/11 and renditioned to a prison in Syria (see December 2001).
bullet Said Bahaji, a German. He is said to be a computer expert who taught Atta and others how to use computers to communicate. He fled Germany just before 9/11 (see September 3-5, 2001). There is a warrant for his arrest (see September 21, 2001), but he remains free.
bullet Zakariya Essabar, a Moroccan. He lived with Atta, Bahaji, and others. He trained in Afghanistan and attempted to get a US visa (see January-October 2000). He fled Germany just before 9/11 (see Late August 2001). There is a warrant for his arrest (see October 19, 2001), but he remains free overseas.
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian. He had been investigated for al-Qaeda ties for years before 9/11 (see 1993), and he knew Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and other members of the Hamburg cell (see October 9, 1999). He remains free in Germany (see November 11, 2010).
bullet Abdul-Matin Tatari, a Syrian. He runs a textile company called Tatex Trading that investigators suspect helped get money and visas for al-Qaeda operatives (see September 10, 2002-June 2003). He was questioned on September 10, 2002, but he remains free in Germany. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2002]
More than Just Nine - But a few months later, the Chicago Tribune will report that investigators believe there are many more members of the Hamburg cell than was previously reported (see February 25, 2003). For instance, one likely participant who will only become publicly known many years later is Naamen Meziche. He was friends with Atta and others in the Hamburg cell, and he will be killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Barakat Yarkas, Abdul-Matin Tatari, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Zakariya Essabar, Said Bahaji, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Naamen Meziche, Mounir El Motassadeq, German intelligence community, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

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