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Profile: Bashar Assad

Bashar Assad was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bashar Assad, Cedric Brown, Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Kim Jong Il, Joseph N. Cappella

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

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