Profile: Mounir El Motassadeq
Mounir El Motassadeq was a participant or observer in the following events:
The al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, where Mohamed Atta made his will. [Source: Der Speigel]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta makes his will in Germany. It is not clear that the text of the will is actually written by Atta. For example, author Lawrence Wright will say that Atta merely signs a “standardized will” he gets from the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, and journalists Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding will say that the will is a “printed-out form devised by the mosque.” Atta apparently makes it as he is angered by new reports of an Israeli operation against Lebanon, which begins on this day. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 81-2; Wright, 2006, pp. 307] Although the act of making a will is not that unusual for a 27-year old Muslim, the content of the will is unusual, perhaps reflecting the radical environment of the mosque (see Early 1996). For example, it says: “…  I don’t want a pregnant woman or a person who is not clean to come and say good bye to me because I don’t approve it…  The person who will wash my body near my genitals must wear gloves on his hands so he won’t touch my genitals…  I don’t want any women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or on any occasion thereafter.” The will is witnessed by Abdelghani Mouzdi and Mounir El Motassadeq, who also make wills around the same time. [Atta, 4/11/1996; Burke, 2004, pp. 242; McDermott, 2005, pp. 49, 245-7, 274]
Cabdullah Ciise. [Source: The Sun]Police raid the apartment of Cabdullah Ciise, an extremist based in Germany who is linked to hijacker Mohamed Atta and some of his associates in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. The police find forged Italian documents in the apartment, proving a link between Ciise in Germany and Italian cells that specialize in document forgery, especially one in Milan that is under investigation (see 1998 and October 2, 1998). Ciise lives in Germany from 1991 until October 1999, during which time he becomes friendly with Mohamed Atta as well as cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh, with whom he often watches videos about the war in Chechyna and talks about religion. Ciise is also linked to other cell members such as Mohamed Daki and his associates Said Bahaji and Mounir El Motassadeq, as well as a Yemeni named Mohammed Rajih whom German authorities will investigate for terrorist ties at some point before 2005. It is unclear what impact the link to the important Milan cell has on surveillance of the cell in Hamburg. Ciise will allegedly be involved in a bombing in Mombasa, Kenya (see November 28, 2002), will help send fighters to Iraq, and will be arrested in Milan in 2003. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 256]
Mounir El Motassadeq. [Source: Associated Press]A German inquiry into Mounir El Motassadeq, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, begins by this date. Although Germany will not reveal details, documents show that by August 1998, El Motassadeq is under surveillance. “The trail soon [leads] to most of the main [Hamburg] participants” in 9/11. Surveillance records El Motassadeq and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who had already been identified by police as a suspected extremist, as they meet at the Hamburg home of Said Bahaji on August 29, 1998. Files show that investigators are aware of who Bahaji is by this time.(Bahaji will soon move into an apartment with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and other al-Qaeda members (see November 1, 1998-February 2001.) German police monitor several other meetings between El Motassadeq and Zammar in the following months. [New York Times, 1/18/2003] El Motassadeq will later be sentenced to 15 years in prison for membership in al-Qaeda (see August 19, 2005).
The Marienstrasse building. [Source: Associated Press]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda operatives Said Bahaji and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and others in the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell move into a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany, and some of them stay there until February 2001. Investigators will later believe this move marks the formation of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2002; New York Times, 9/10/2002] Up to six men at a time live at the apartment, including, at times, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and cell member Zakariya Essabar. Alshehhi moves out after the first month; it is unclear why. [New York Times, 9/15/2001] During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address.
Surveillance of Bahaji - From the very beginning, the apartment is under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Bahaji. [Washington Post, 10/23/2001] The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji is directly monitored for at least part of 1998, but German officials will not disclose when the probe began or ends. This investigation is dropped for lack of evidence (see (Late 1998)). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji moves out in July 1999 and gets married a few months later (see October 9, 1999). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Surveillance of El Motassadeq - German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who will later be convicted for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently it does not find any indication of suspicious activity (see August 29, 1998). [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002]
Surveillance of Zammar - Zammar, a talkative man who has trouble keeping secrets, does not live at the apartment, but he is a frequent visitor to the many late night meetings there. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 259-60; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] He even lives in the apartment for a time in February 1999 (see February 1999). Zammar is the focus of an investigation that began in 1997 and continues until early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Interest in monitoring him increases in late 1998 (see October 2, 1998).
Surveillance of Atta - The CIA also allegedly starts monitoring Atta in early 2000 while he is living at the apartment, and does not tell Germany of the surveillance (see January-May 2000). Atta leaves Germany to live in the US in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000).
No Direct German Surveillance of the Apartment? - Yet, even though people like Zammar who frequently phone and visit the apartment are monitored, German officials will later claim that the apartment itself is never bugged. An unnamed senior German security official will later say that some surveillance of associated people gives “the impression that the people living there were fanatical believers. At the BfV [Germany’s domestic intelligence agency], we had to decide whether to ask permission to place a wiretap on the line at 54 Marienstrasse itself. We discussed this every day.” But he will claim that they ultimately decide they will not be able to get legal permission for a wiretap because there is no evidence that the apartment’s occupants are breaking any laws. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] This claim that the apartment was not directly monitored seems contradicted by reports that Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation when he was living in the Marienstrasse apartment in late 1998 (see (Late 1998)).
What Would More Surveillance Have Uncovered? - It will later be clear that investigators could have found evidence if they looked more thoroughly. For instance, one visitor will recall Atta and others discussing attacking the US. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in Hamburg several times in 1999 and comes to the apartment. However, although there is a $2 million reward for Mohammed since 1998, the US apparently fails to tell Germany what it knows about him (see 1999). [Newsweek, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 11/4/2002] 9/11 Hijacker Waleed Alshehri also apparently stays at the apartment “at times.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Remarkably, shortly after 9/11, the German government will claim it knew little about the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell before 9/11, and nothing directed it towards the Marienstrasse apartment. [Daily Telegraph, 11/24/2001]
Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Said Bahaji, Marwan Alshehhi, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohamed Atta, Mounir El Motassadeq, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Zakariya Essabar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Said Bahaji, computer expert for the Hamburg cell. [Source: German Bavarian Police]German intelligence monitors a phone call in which the names of key members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell are mentioned. Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s full name and telephone number are even mentioned. German domestic intelligence (BfV) has been monitoring al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s telephone (see March 1997-Early 2000). On this day, Zammar is not home, but his parents speak to each other on the phone and are trying to figure out where he is. One of them suggests that Zammar is at a meeting with “Mohamed, Ramzi, and Said,” and can be reached at the phone number of the Marienstrasse apartment where all three of them live. This refers to cell members Atta, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Said Bahaji. “Mounir”—cell member Mounir El Motassadeq—is mentioned as well. However, apparently German intelligence fails to grasp the importance of these names, even though Bahaji and El Motassadeq are also under investigation at this time (see August 29, 1998). The Marienstrasse apartment is the center of the cell’s activity (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; New York Times, 1/18/2003; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003] Atta’s first and last name are mentioned in the phone call between Zammar’s parents. Agents check the Marienstrasse phone number, which they find is registered to Bahaji. They also confirm the street address, but it is not known what they make of the information. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003]
Friends of Ziad Jarrah taken on April 1, 1999. Third from left in back row is Abdelghani Mzoudi; fifth is Mounir El Motassadeq; seventh is Ramzi bin al-Shibh; Mohamed Atta is on middle row far right; Atta rests his hands on Mohamed Rajih. [Source: DDP / AFP]9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah has an unofficial wedding with his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen, on or shortly before April 1, 1999. They have a wedding ceremony at the radical Al-Quds mosque, but they do not register the wedding with the German government, so it is not legally binding. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 78] A photo apparently taken by Jarrah at the wedding will be found by German intelligence in Senguen’s home several days after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). The photo will be studied to determine who was a member of or close to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell in early 1999. German investigators are able to identify 18 out of 22 men in the photo. Those in the photo include 9/11 hijacker Atta, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mounir El Motassadeq, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abderrasak Labied, and Mohammed Rajih. The LfV, the security service for the Hamburg region, will show such a surprising amount of knowledge of the people in the photo just days after 9/11 that it will later be suggested the LfV must have had an informant close to the Hamburg cell (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003]
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, plus would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and associate Mounir El Motassadeq, hold a meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands. All are living in Hamburg at the time, so it is not clear why they go to meet there, though some speculate that they are meeting someone else. El Motassadeq also goes to the town of Eindhoven, Netherlands, on three occasions, in early 1999, late 1999, and 2001. [Associated Press, 9/13/2002] On at least one occasion, Motassadeq receives cash provided by unnamed “Saudi financiers” that is meant to fund a new Eindhoven mosque. Investigators believe he uses the money to help pay for some 9/11 hijacker flying lessons. [Baltimore Sun, 9/2/2002]
Video footage of Said Bahaji’s wedding in October 1999. Clockwise from top left: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Mamoun Darkazanli, Ziad Jarrah, and Marwan Alshehhi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mamoun Darkazanli, along with most of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, attends the wedding of Said Bahaji. Bahaji is one of future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s roommates and is believed to be a core member of the cell. The wedding takes place at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg. A videotape of the wedding will be discovered by German investigators shortly after 9/11, and eventually more than 20 men will be identified from the video. Other attendees include: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Mounir El Motassadeq, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, and Abdelghani Mzoudi. [New York Times, 9/10/2002; CBS News, 5/7/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Zammar is Bahaji’s best man in the wedding. [New York Times, 6/20/2002]
Speeches and Songs Promise Martyrdom - The video first shows Bahaji’s nuptial ceremony, followed by a series of radical militant speeches. Bin al-Shibh gives a particularly fiery speech. He says: “It is now as if we were in school, in Arabic lessons. At the end, we have a test. Some will pass this test, [others] will not.” He quotes a poem, saying that when Israel flies its flag over Jerusalem, “how can you bear these humiliations?… When the tyrants attack you, you will then be a wave of fire and blood.” The group then sings songs in Arabic celebrating violent holy war and martyrdom. One song includes the lyrics: “Our squads have been revolutionized.… Against the heresy, like a volcano, like hurricane and fire, we follow the voice of your call.… We will be aglow with readiness for action. We will crush the throne of the oppressor.” Another song celebrates martyrdom and promises many virgins in paradise for martyrs. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Video Shows the 9/11 Plot Is in Motion - The New York Times will later report, “The presence of all of these men at the wedding of Mr. Bahaji has led investigators to believe that the plan to attack the United States had essentially been formed by then.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
Zakariya Essabar. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar attends an al-Qaeda training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He leaves for the camp in January 2000 and stays at the camp for an usually long time—nine months—until October. Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq is at the same camp from late May until August 2000 (see May 22 to August 2000). The two of them train separately but see each other often. Hamburg associate Abdelghani Mzoudi also attends the same camp around this time (see Summer 2000).
Attempt to Become a 9/11 Pilot? - When Essabar returns from the camp, he applies for a new passport, saying that he lost his previous one. When he gets a new one, he applies for a US visa. However, his application is rejected, probably because, as a Moroccan citizen, he is deemed an economic risk. Author Terry McDermott will later comment, “The timing suggests that [the Hamburg cell was] intent on finding a fourth pilot” for the 9/11 attacks. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202]
Said Bahaji in 1995. [Source: Public domain]German intelligence places two members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, Mounir El Motassadeq and Said Bahaji, on a German watch list. The two men, associates of future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, had come to the Germans’ attention because of their association with al-Qaeda recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who they meet regularly. The watchlisting means that their arrivals and departures to and from Germany will be reported immediately. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is also placed on a watch list at some point before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). El Motassadeq was first investigated by German authorities in 1998 (see August 29, 1998). Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation starting in 1998 as well (see (Late 1998)). Bahaji may have recently traveled to Afghanistan with some associates using a route monitored by European intelligence agencies (see Late November-Early December 1999).
El Motassadeq's Travels Will Be Noticed Three Times - Because he is watchlisted, German intelligence will keep track when El Motassadeq goes to Denmark twice, and when he flies to Istanbul on his way to a training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22, 2000). [New York Times, 1/18/2003]
Importance of Watchlisting - Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the watchlisting of El Motassadeq: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state. Being placed on the list indicated that El Motassadeq had been under investigation for some time. In that he was an integral part of the group that included [Atta], [Ramzi bin al-Shibh], and Alshehhi, this at the least implies that they were being watched too.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 297]
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq attends an al-Qaeda training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He leaves on May 22, 2000, flying from Hamburg, Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey, and then on to Pakistan. He is there at the same time as another Hamburg cell member, Zakariya Essabar (see January-October 2000). Although they train separately, they are at the same camp and see each other frequently. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202] Hamburg associate Abdelghani Mzoudi also attends the same camp around this time, and El Motassadeq will later testify in court that he meets with him at the camp. (see Summer 2000). El Motassadeq leaves Afghanistan in August 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 8/30/2002] El Motassadeq’s trip to the camp is likely noticed by the Turkish government, because he is on a watch list and he uses a known route to the camps (see May 22, 2000).
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq leaves Germany for Afghanistan and his travel is immediately reported to the German authorities because he is on a watch list (see March 2000). El Motassadeq flies from Hamburg to Karachi, Pakistan, via Istanbul. At least two of the future 9/11 hijackers have previously traveled this route to Afghanistan (see Late November-Early December 1999). Although Turkish intelligence is aware that radicals from Germany travel to Afghanistan via Turkey, it is unclear whether they pick up the travel by El Motassadeq (see 1996). There are two versions of German intelligence’s reaction to this trip. An early 2003 article in Der Speigel will say that the intelligence report only gives El Motassadeq’s destination as Istanbul, so there are no consequences for him. However, a later article in Stern magazine will say, “Naturally, the officials know that Istanbul is not his real destination but only the usual stopover on his way to Afghanistan, to the camps of Osama bin Laden.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003; Stern, 8/13/2003] Indeed, El Motassadeq goes to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000).
Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Abdelghani Mzoudi attends an al-Qaeda training camp. Mzoudi has long been an associate of future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg cell. In the summer of 2002, a witness will tell German intelligence that Mzoudi was seen at one of the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Mounir El Motassadeq, a member of the Hamburg cell, will later testify in a German court that he met Mzoudi in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000). Their mutual acquaintance Zakariya Essabar is at the same camp as El Motassadeq at this time (see January-October 2000). [Associated Press, 5/9/2003] Mzoudi will later be convicted of a role in the 9/11 attacks, but will then be acquitted after the US does not allow a key witness in its custody to be questioned (see February 5, 2004-June 8, 2005).
Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi goes missing, and his family, German police, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials look for him until he finally calls and says he is okay.
Alshehhi Goes Missing - Alshehhi is a citizen from the UAE. In the spring of 2000, Alshehhi spent time with his family in the UAE before returning to Germany. He called his mother periodically after that (his father had already died), but the calls grew less frequent. In April 2000, Alshehhi was removed from the UAE army for the crime of desertion (see April 1, 2000). During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in December 2000, Alshehhi does not call his mother at all. His mother grows alarmed and calls the UAE embassy in Germany. UAE officials contact the Technical University in Harburg, near Hamburg, where Alshehhi is supposed to be studying, and find out that he has not been there for a year and he has been removed from the school’s registration rolls. Local German police open a missing person investigation, but are unable to find him. On December 23, 2000, the UAE army stops paying for Alshehhi’s studies (see Spring 1996-December 23, 2000).
Alshehhi's Half-Brother Leads a Search - Finally, Alshehhi’s mother sends his half-brother Mohamed Yousef Mohamed Alqusaidi to Germany to look for him. A UAE embassy official spends several days traveling with Alqusaidi in Bonn and Hamburg looking for Alshehhi, but without success. A UAE official will later say: “We knew he was not going to school and the Germans never had this. We were trying to get him back. We were trying to track him.” In Harburg, they talk to Mounir El Motassadeq, who says that Alshehhi has gone to Chechnya or Afghanistan. Alqusaidi returns to the UAE.
Alshehhi Calls and Lies about What He's Doing - Later in the month, Alshehhi calls his family and says that stories about him being out of Germany are wrong. He says that he has been going through a rough time but things are improving, and he is now studying elsewhere in Hamburg. It is unclear if his family believes him or not. But his half-brother Alqusaidi had been periodically sending him money, and sent him money for the last time around November 2000 (see July 1999-November 2000). [McDermott, 2005, pp. 214-215] In fact, Alshehhi has been learning to fly in Florida with Mohamed Atta (see July 6-December 19, 2000).
Kay Nehm [Source: Generalbundesanwalt]An associate of the hijackers named Mounir El Motassadeq sends $1,000 to an account of Mohamed Atta in Florida. The money is sent from an account of hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in Germany for which El Motassadeq has a power of attorney. This transaction is not mentioned by US authorities, but is disclosed by Kay Nehm, a prosecutor in the case against El Motassadeq in Germany. El Motassadeq will later be convicted for membership of al-Qaeda (see August 19, 2005). [Dawn (Karachi), 9/1/2002; CNN, 2/19/2003 Sources: Kay Nehm]
Near the end of his visit to Spain in July 2001 (see July 8-19, 2001), future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta sends a cell phone text message to three friends in Hamburg, Germany. The message reads: “Salam (greetings). This is for you, Abbas, and Mounir. Hasn’t the time come to fear God’s word. Allah. I love you all. Amir.” The message is sent to Said Bahaji, so he is the “you.” “Mounir” is Mounir El Motassadeq. “Abbas” is Abbas Tahir, a Sudanese friend of Ziad Jarrah’s who author Terry McDermott says is one of the Hamburg group. Atta signs the message “Amir” because he is generally known as Mohamed el-Amir in Germany. The information about this message will come from the BKA (German intelligence). It will be unknown if the BKA finds the message before or after 9/11. [McDermott, 2005, pp. xi, 225, 303, 328]
The LfV, the security service for the Hamburg region, shows a surprising amount of knowledge about the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, suggesting that the agency may have had an informant close to the cell. In 2004, Manfred Murck, deputy director of the LfV, will claim that the LfV’s greatest regret is that it never monitored the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] However, shortly after 9/11, a photograph is found in the house of 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah’s girlfriend Aysel Senguen that was taken at Jarrah and Senguen’s non-legally binding wedding in April 1999 (see (April 1, 1999)).
Notes on the Photo - Eighteen out of 22 men in the picture are soon identified; many of them are members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. Seven of the men are easily identified. Eleven more are identified by the LfV, and 10 of them by name, including 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, and hijacker associates Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abdelghani Mzoudi, and Mounir El Motassadeq. Investigators at other German intelligence agencies don’t know where the photo was taken, but the LfV reveals that it was taken inside the Al-Quds mosque. In 2003, the Frankfurt newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will conclude that the LfV had an informant who knew details about the Al-Quds mosque and its attendees. The newspaper will base this on the LfV notes about the photo written just after 9/11. These notes show that not only does the LfV know that the picture was taken inside Al-Quds (when its agents were never supposed to go inside a mosque), but it knows the picture was taken in early 1999, because the carpet shown in the picture was changed shortly after that time. Furthermore, the LfV photo notes show knowledge of “even seemingly trivial details” about some of the people in the picture. For instance, the notes mention that hijacker associate Mzoudi “cleans and cooks together with Abderrasak Labied in the Al-Quds mosque.” [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003] (Labied is another suspected member of the Hamburg cell.) [Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Some men in the photo left Hamburg later in 1999, but the LfV notes are still able to identify them.
Knowledge of Mohamed Atta's Group - The LfV also shows detailed knowledge about some of the 9/11 hijackers. For instance, starting in 1999, Atta led an Islamic study group at the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg known as “Islam AG.” The LfV is able to identify which of the men in the picture attended this study group. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003]
Informant or Some Other Source of Knowledge? - The LfV notes indicate that if the LfV did not have an informant involved with the Al-Quds mosque since 1999, at the very least it has a great deal of knowledge about the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell members.
Shortly after 9/11, US investigators are finally able to access prisoner Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings. A German cell phone number is found in his address book. In Germany, cell phone buyers must present a passport or other official identification, so German police quickly discover that the number belongs to Karl Herweg of Dusseldorf, Germany. Looking at phone records, it is discovered that in the weeks before 9/11, Herweg called Mounir El Motassadeq, Zakariya Essabar, and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, all believed to be members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, along with a few of the 9/11 hijackers. Additionally, Herweg called “Mohammed R.,” who remains publicly unknown but is believed to be a key 9/11 suspect. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] (Note that if this is the correct first name and initial, it could be a reference to Mohammed Rajih, a Yemeni whom German authorities will investigate for terrorist ties at some point before 2005, and who has links to some Hamburg cell figures—see 1998.) [Vidino, 2006, pp. 256] Herweg also called a satellite phone probably used by al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. However, police learn that no one in Dusseldorf has the name “Karl Herweg.” There is a couple living next door to the bogus address with the last name of Herweg, but they have no children and have never heard of any Karl Herweg. Police begin tapping Herweg’s phone. But when no new calls are made or received by early November 2001, the surveillance is discontinued. However, phone records show that at least one call is made with the phone afterwards. Herweg’s actual identity and his relationship to Moussaoui and the Hamburg cell will remain a mystery. In 2003, the Chicago Tribune will call Herweg “one of the most important figures in the continuing mystery that is Sept. 11.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003]
The German government arrests Mounir El Motassadeq in Hamburg on the “urgent suspicion of supporting a terrorist group.” El Motassadeq, a Moroccan student, is believed to be part of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell, along with a few of the 9/11 hijackers. After 9/11, he did not attempt to leave Germany, and he was under surveillance for weeks before his arrest. He fell under suspicion when investigators discovered that he had power of attorney over a bank account in the name of 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. [Washington Post, 11/29/2001] El Motassadeq will be charged with a role in the 9/11 plot in late 2002 (see August 29, 2002). He will be convicted in 2003 (see February 18, 2003).
German authorities charge Mounir El Motassadeq with complicity in the 9/11 attacks. He was arrested in Germany two months after 9/11 (see November 28, 2001). He is only the second person in the world to be charged with any crime related to the 9/11 attacks (after Zacarias Moussaoui). He is charged with helping finance hijacker Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [Agence France-Presse, 8/29/2002; New York Times, 8/29/2002]
[Source: Tatex]On September 10, 2002, German police raid the Tatex Trading company, a small textile business located just outside of Hamburg. According to Newsweek, German authorities has been “keeping a close watch on the company… for years.” Germans begin preparing a case against the company and the US prepares to freeze the company’s assets. But by June 2003, the investigation is closed and no action is taken by the US or Germany. Newsweek will claim that “Some US and German officials suggest that both countries decided not to proceed with legal action against Tatex to avoid antagonizing the government of Syria.” [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 9/7/2003; Newsweek, 1/18/2004] The New Yorker will claim “Tatex was infiltrated by Syrian intelligence in the eighties; one of its shareholders was Mohammed Majed Said, who ran the Syrian intelligence directorate from 1987 to 1994.” [New Yorker, 7/18/2003] Some believe the Syrians infiltrated the company to spy on extremist Syrian exiles in Hamburg, while others believe Syrians were using the company as a front to illegally acquire high-tech equipment from the West. It is claimed that the investigation into Tatex is dropped because Syria has been cooperative with Germany and the US in other areas. [Newsweek, 1/18/2004] Abdul-Matin Tatari, the Syrian in charge of Tatex, admits that his company had employed Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli, both of whom have been tied to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Further, the Chicago Tribune claims, “Investigators also say Mohamed Atta himself worked for a time at Tatex, something Tatari vehemently denies. But Tatari admits that one of his sons signed Atta’s petition to establish an Islamic ‘study group’ at Hamburg’s Technical University that served as a rendezvous for the hijackers and their supporters.” Tatari’s son took trips with Mounir El Motassadeq, who also has been tied to the Hamburg cell. Tatari, Zammar, Darkazanli, and Atta all are believed to be members of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a secret society banned in Egypt. [Chicago Tribune, 11/1/2002]
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:
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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
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
During the German trial of Mounir El Motassadeq, accused of participation in the 9/11 attacks, a German police officer testifies that the business card of Muhammad J. Fakihi, the chief of Islamic affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Berlin, was found in a raid on El Motassadeq’s apartment. The raid also turned up a credit card belonging to Mohamed Atta and the password to Atta’s e-mail account. Saudi officials deny that Fakihi had ever met El Motassadeq. Fakihi is recalled to Saudi Arabia three months later, following demands by Germany that he leave. [International Herald Tribune, 12/4/2002; Sydney Morning Herald, 12/5/2002; New York Times, 12/8/2002; Newsweek, 12/9/2002; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3/26/2003]
Mohamed Atta has his hands on the shoulders of Mohammed Rajih in a portion of a 1999 group photo. [Source: DDP/ AFP]The Los Angeles Times reports that an al-Qaeda cell may still exist in Hamburg, Germany, and al-Qaeda sympathizers are threatening witnesses in a trial there. The CIA told the German government in late 2002 that it suspects an al-Qaeda cell is still present in Hamburg. It is known that a criminal investigation of at least eight suspected cell members is continuing in Germany. Mounir El Motassadeq is on trial for a role in the 9/11 plot. According to the Times, police have taped “telephone conversations of people—who never identify themselves—telling El Motassadeq’s wife that they would give her money if she needs it, implying that El Motassadeq will be assisted as long as he remains quiet.” One witness withdrew his statement to police after he was told he might need to testify publicly. Another witness named Shahid Nickels, who lived with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh at one point, has told investigators that after 9/11, a man named Mohammed Rajih urged him to destroy any phone number or other contact information he might have for the Hamburg cell. Rajih soon moved to Morocco. He is suspected of being involved with the cell, and was under investigation even before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003] In 2009, a group of ten men who regularly attend the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg—the same mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers—will depart for militant training camps in Pakistan. One of the men, Naamen Meziche, will turn out to have been a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell even before 9/11 (see March 5, 2009 and August 9, 2010).
Mounir El Motassadeq, an alleged member of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, is convicted in Germany of accessory to murder in the 9/11 attacks. His is given the maximum sentence of 15 years. [Associated Press, 2/19/2003] El Motassadeq admitted varying degrees of contact with Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Ziad Jarrah, and Zakariya Essabar; admitted he had been given power of attorney over Alshehhi’s bank account; and admitted attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from May to August 2000 (see May 22 to August 2000); but he claimed he had nothing to do with the 9/11 plot. [New York Times, 10/24/2002] The conviction is the first one related to 9/11, but as the Independent puts it, “there are doubts whether there will ever be a second.” This is because intelligence agencies have been reluctant to turn over evidence, or give access to requested witnesses. In El Motassadeq’s case, his lawyers tried several times unsuccessfully to obtain testimony by two of his friends, bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar—a lack of evidence that will later become grounds for overturning his conviction. [Independent, 2/20/2003]
[Source: Public domain]Abdelghani Mzoudi is charged in Germany for an alleged role in the 9/11 plot. The 30-year-old electrical engineering student from Morocco is accused of accessory to murder and membership of a terrorist organization. He was arrested in October 2002 (see October 10, 2002). He is alleged to have trained in Afghanistan, transferred money, and provided other logistical support to his fellow cell members involved in the 9/11 attacks. Mzoudi had known hijacker Mohamed Atta since 1996 and had roomed with Mounir El Motassadeq, another Moroccan who was convicted of the same charges (see February 18, 2003). Mzoudi denies any involvement in the hijacking plans. [Associated Press, 5/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/10/2003; Washington Post, 8/15/2003] In Mzoudi’s trial, which begins in August 2003, his lawyers say they may explore theories during the trial about how the 9/11 attacks suspiciously served the foreign policy goals of US conservatives. One defense attorney says, “As I take a close look at the results of the investigations through my glasses, I find anomalies that are immediately apparent. They begin with passenger lists that include the Arabic names of people who are still very much alive today.” (see September 16-23, 2001]) [Washington Post, 8/15/2003; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/8/2003]
A German appeals court overturns the conviction of Mounir El Motassadeq after finding that German and US authorities withheld evidence. He had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for involvement in the 9/11 plot. According to the court, a key suspect in US custody, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, had not been allowed to testify. European commentators blame US secrecy, complaining that “the German justice system [is] suffering ‘from the weaknesses of the way America is dealing with 9/11,’ and ‘absolute secrecy leads absolutely certainly to flawed trials.’” [Agence France-Presse, 3/5/2004] The court orders a new trial scheduled to begin later in the year. [Associated Press, 3/4/2004] The release of El Motassadeq (and the acquittal of Mzoudi earlier in the year) means that there is not a single person who has ever been successfully prosecuted for the events of 9/11.
Dietrich Snell, the 9/11 Commission’s lead investigator into the origins and role of the Hamburg cell in the 9/11 plot, testifies in the German retrial of Mounir El Motassadeq. Snell tells a panel of judges that the 9/11 Commission concluded the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell members such as Mohamed Atta did not develop the idea of the 9/11 plot on their own, but were recruited by bin Laden during a visit to Afghanistan in late 1999. He claims, “Ultimately, we did not arrive at the conclusion that there was solid evidence of any contact” between the Hamburg cell members and al-Qaeda leaders about the plot before the Hamburg group’s trip to Afghanistan. These findings contradict the prosecutor’s case against El Motassadeq and also run counter to media accounts suggesting the Hamburg cell was involved in the plot before that time. According to German law, prosecutors must prove that important elements of the conspiracy took place in Germany in order to get a conviction. Snell largely fails to explain how the Commission came to that conclusion, saying the sources remain classified. [Washington Post, 3/9/2005]
Mounir El Motassadeq is convicted in Germany of belonging to a terrorist organization and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, he is acquitted of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He had previously been convicted of such involvement (see February 18, 2003), only to have the ruling overturned later (see March 3, 2004). The verdict was overturned when a judge ruled he was unfairly denied testimony for al-Qaeda suspects in US custody such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh. For the retrial, the US provided summaries from the interrogation of bin al-Shibh and other suspects, but did not make full reports available to the court or allow the prisoners to appear in person for cross-examination. The judge presiding over the retrial criticized the US for failing to give more evidence, saying, “How are we supposed to do justice to our task when important documents are withheld from us?” [Associated Press, 8/19/2005] A former roommate of El Motassadeq testified that Mohamed Atta and bin al-Shibh regularly visited El Motassadeq, and he once overheard him say: “We are going to something big. He said, ‘The Jews will burn; we will dance on their graves.’” [Associated Press, 6/5/2005] However, a 9/11 Commission investigator gave testimony that was very damaging to the prosecution’s argument that the Hamburg cell had a significant role in preparing the plot while in Germany (see March 8, 2005).
Mounir El Motassadeq, a former associate of three of the 9/11 hijackers, is convicted of assisting the 9/11 attacks. The conviction is handed down by a federal appeals court in Germany, where El Motassadeq had known the hijackers. El Motassadeq had previously been convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization (see August 19, 2005), but was acquitted on similar charges of assisting the 9/11 attacks (see March 3, 2004). However, the appeals court decides this decision was wrong and that El Motassadeq should be convicted for being an accessory to the murders of the 246 people killed on the airliners on 9/11, although sentence should be imposed by a lower court. El Motassadeq admits having trained in Afghanistan and having known three of the hijackers—Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah—but says he knew nothing of their plans. However, the court finds he did know they intended to crash airliners and assisted the hijackers by transferring money to them and making it seem like they were still attending university in Germany. As El Motassadeq did not know the planned targets, he cannot be convicted of assisting the murders of the thousands of people who died in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. [New York Times, 1/9/2007; Associated Press, 1/9/2007] El Motassadeq will later be sentenced to 15 years in jail for the offense (see January 8, 2007).
Mounir El Motassadeq, a former associate of three of the 9/11 hijackers, is sentenced to 15 years in prison in Germany. El Motassadeq was convicted of assisting the 9/11 attacks in November (see November 2006) and is currently serving a seven-year sentence for being a member of a terrorist organization (see August 19, 2005). The 15-year sentence is the maximum possible, as the conviction was only as an accessory to the deaths of the 246 people who died on the airliners. As El Motassadeq has already served three years, this period will be deducted from the sentence. Defense lawyers say they will appeal the conviction, and that the case may go all the way to the European Court of Justice. [New York Times, 1/9/2007; Associated Press, 1/9/2007]
The location of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, allegedly is revealed by a captured German militant. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), both the Washington Times and London Times will claim that a militant named Ahmed Siddiqui is captured in Afghanistan in July 2010, and quickly tells US interrogators that bin Laden is hiding in a compound in Abbottabad (although apparently he does not mention the exact location, just the town). Both articles will also claim that US intelligence tracks bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed to bin Laden’s compound at nearly the exact same time (see July 2010 and August 1, 2010). The Washington Times will mention that different sources name Siddiqui or Ahmed as the key intelligence breakthrough. [Washington Times, 5/2/2011; London Times, 5/8/2011] In September 2010, Der Spiegel will report that the 36-year-old Siddiqui is arrested in early July by US forces in Afghanistan, and he confesses about attack plots in Germany and other countries. He is a German of Afghan descent, and is believed to be part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). He is thought to have gone to Pakistan and Afghanistan in early 2009. He attended the same mosque in Hamburg as some of the 9/11 hijackers such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Siddiqui also has links to Mounir El Motassadeq, who was given a 15-year sentence in Germany for a role in the 9/11 attacks (see January 8, 2007). For instance, Siddiqui worked at the Hamburg airport like El Motassadeq did, drove El Motassadeq’s father to jail to visit El Motassadeq, and went on vacation with El Motassadeq’s family in Morocco in 2002. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/6/2010]
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