!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Zakariya Essabar
Zakariya Essabar was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
German investigators are monitoring Said Bahaji, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, for his ties to Mamoun Darkazanli. They had been monitoring a Marienstrasse address where Bahaji had been living. But Bahaji moved out after his 1999 wedding (see October 9, 1999) to live down the street with his new wife. A request to continue monitoring the Marienstrasse address is denied in 2000 for lack of evidence. Bahaji had lived at that address with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Although Bahaji, Atta, and Alshehhi all moved out by mid-2000, other associates like Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Zakariya Essabar, and Abdelghani Mzoudi moved in. Atta’s name stayed on the lease until early 2001. [New York Times, 6/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 495]
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]
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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]
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
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]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.