The case of Muhammad Haidar Zammar1
By Elias Davidsson (January 2014)
How German leaders conspired with the U.S. and Syria in covering-up a secret operation
1. Who is Zammar?
Muhammad Haidar Zammar (also written Mohammad or Mohammed Haydar) was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1961. He moved to Germany with his family when he was ten years old and became a German citizen in 1982. According to intelligence services, he participated in the war against the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces and in the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia, on the Bosnian side. According to these sources, Zammar decided in 1991 to dedicate himself fully to “jihad”, whatever that means.
2. Why is Zammar’s case relevant for understanding the conduct of Mohammed El Amir Atta?
The reason for examining thoroughly the case of Zammar, is that he reportedly claimed to have recruited Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and Ziad Jarrah, three of the alleged suicide-pilots of 9/11,into the Al Qaeda network and induced them go to Afghanistan for military training.1While Zammar’s claims have not been confirmed independently, U.S. and German authorities have not denied these claims. According to unnamed U.S. investigators, Zammar is indeed believed to have recruited Mohamed Atta and his Hamburg group to become “suicide attackers”.2
Should that have been the case, the question would arise whether he acted on his own or as an operative for “higher-ups”. In the latter case, discovering the identity of these “higher-ups” would help explain the role played by Mohamed El Amir Atta and his friends, in relation to 9/11.
The present study demonstrates that Zammar was no marginal figure in relation to the group around Mohamed Atta; that the German government was aware of his key role long before 9/11; that it facilitated his departure from Germany after 9/11; and that it remains determined to hide the true function of Zammar.
3. Zammar was monitored by German intelligence long before 9/11
According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, unnamed officials said that Zammar, who obtained a German passport in 1982, had been already known to Germany’s Federal Office of the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or BfV) since the end of the 1980s as a militant Muslim and recruiter for “jihad”.3 According to diverse mainstream sources, German and U.S. intelligence services had Zammar under extensive observation at least since 19984, probably earlier.5They reportedly interceptedhis phone calls6, monitored his meetings7 and surveilled his movements.8 Information about the surveillance of Zammar “from the files of various German police and intelligence agencies”, was provided to the New York Times “by someone with official access to the files of the continuing investigation into the events leading to the Sept. 11 attacks.”9 German officials did not dispute the authenticity of these documents.
According to the German weekly Der Spiegel,10 the newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten11 and a later Spiegel article12, Turkish authorities informed their German colleagues already in 1996 that Zammar had flown more than 40 times through Istanbul and Ankara on the way to, or back from war zones. This fact was withheld from the Commission of Inquiry of the Bundestag (COI) and was not mentioned in the commission’s final report.Yet, such extensive travel by an unemployed person who depended on welfare payments, should have raised immediate alarms.
A German investigator, EKHK Kröschel, was asked by the Commission of Inquiry what was known to German intelligence about Zammar before 9/11. As part of his answer, he read from a dossier on Zammar from the Hamburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV), that predates 9/11:
“On the base of numerous information, Zammar is known to the Hamburg Office of the Protection of the Constitution as a follower of Osama bin Laden and is considered as belonging to the network of ‘Arab Afghans’. According to his own wish, Zammar underwent already in 1991 military training as a Mujahedeen in the use of infantry weapons and explosives in Pakistan and participated thereafter in combat in Afghanistan. He had presumably personal contact to Osama bin Laden, whom he admires.”
According to an unnamed investigator quoted by Der Spiegel, Zammar acted as a kind of “travel agency to Afghanistan.”Long before 9/11, it was suspected by German intelligence that Zammar organized military training for wanabee German “jihadists” in Bin Laden’s camps. According to Azam Irschid, deputy director of the Al-Muhadjirin mosque in Hamburg, Zammar was known within the Islamic community in Hamburg as a full-fledged apostle of “jihad”.13
According to Der Spiegel, the BfV tried to recruit Zammar in 1996 as an informant, an offer he supposedly declined: He was said not to serve Westerners, “only Allah and the jihad.”14He reportedly claimed to have been militarily trained in a “mujahedeen” camp already in 1991 and had got to know Bin Laden personally. Zammar, however, supposedly said that Al Qaeda considered him of little value.15 His statements cannot be independently verified. No open-source evidence exists regarding the period of surveillance, its extent, purpose and nature. There is, however, no plausible reason why mainstream media would fabricate evidence of Zammar’s surveillance by intelligence agencies, nor why such agencies would wish to promote Zammar’s bluster. In fact, when reports appeared about pre-9/11 surveillance of the Hamburg group in general and that of Zammar in particular, Germany’s intelligence agencies tried to downplay the significance of its surveillance. Yet, according to the German weekly STERN, German investigators informed the CIA about their surveillance of Zammar, suggesting thereby that they considered his activities sufficiently significant to report them to their U.S. colleagues.16
The name of Haydar Zammar did never appear in German media prior to 9/11. Public evidence of his existence appeared in German media only after he left Germany with the knowledge of the German authorities in the end of October 2001.
4. What was the purpose of monitoring Zammar?
There is no public evidence that Zammar was questioned by German criminal investigators prior to 9/11. Had he been considered as a security threat – as later claimed by German authorities – they would have possessed at least five good reasons to invite him for questioning prior to 9/11: (1)Three Yemeni men, suspected of being members of Islamic Jihad, were arrested in Torino, Italy, on October 2, 1998, alleged to have prepared attacks on U.S. facilities in Europe. On their address list, Italian authorities found contacts of Mohamed Haydar Zammar;17 (2) The arrest of Al Qaeda suspect Mamduh Mahmud Salim in Munich in the fall of 1998, equally led to Zammar;18 (3) Zammar’s modest financial means (he was on welfare) were not commensurate with his extensive international travel of which intelligence agencies were aware; (4) After he was detained in Jordan in July 2001 and expelled from there to Germany, there existed ample grounds to debrief him;19 (5) other known “suspected extremists” or “Al Qaeda sympathizers” among Hamburg’s Muslims, monitored from as early as 1996,20 included the group around Mohamed Atta and were in permanent contact with Zammar.21If such questioning or debriefing did not take place, German intelligence and investigative authorities owe the public an explanation. Was it the result of gross negligence, or were they ordered to leave him alone? If such questioning or debriefing had taken place before 9/11, the question would arise why this fact is being suppressed and what did these interrogations reveal.
After mainstream media revealed the extensive surveillance of Zammar by German intelligence agencies prior to 9/11, German officials did not issue a denial but rather tried to downplay the significance and the extent of the surveillance. They claimed that Zammar was then not considered as an “extremist”; that “what we did not see, were concrete signs for such a violent act as occurred in New York”;22 that the surveillance had been a “routine operation,”23that intercepted phone calls did not allow to determine the identities of the later “9/11 terrorists” because callers used only first names;24 that at the time, German officials were not overly concerned of a threat emanating from Osama bin Laden25; and that nothing Zammar did was illegal at the time. As a “final proof” of Zammar’s benign intentions, Spiegel’s journalists presented the fact that he did not attempt to flee from Germany after 9/11.26
The above explanations revealed themselves later as contrived: According to Der Spiegel 45/2002, Zammar admitted in interrogations conducted in Syria, that he planned in 1998, together with several other “Islamists”, to carry out a bombing attack in Hamburg, Germany. He and his colleaguesreportedly surveilled the target to be bombed but ultimately found the attacks too risky to carry out because of security considerations. If he actually made this admission, it is surprising that nothing of these plans had transpired in the massive surveillance to which he was subjected. If his statement was the result of torture, the question arises why it was presented by Der Spiegel as a genuine admission.
5. Why was Zammar detained in Jordan in July 2001?
The German authorities reportedly knew that Zammar had been detained in July 2001 in Jordan for several days and expelled to Germany.27 He most probably was debriefed by German officials upon his return to Germany. It is, therefore, surprising that the German authorities did never mention such debriefing (or explained the lack thereof).The reasons for his detention in Jordan have never been clarified. Surprisingly, the 1460-page report by the Commission of Inquiry of the Bundestag (COI), does neither mention Zammar’s detention in Jordan nor his alleged admission to have planned a terrorist attack in Hamburg.
6. Zammar was interrogated after 9/11 in Germany and released immediately
The German authorities interrogated Zammar already six days after 9/1128. He reportedly admitted to a German judge that he had previously distributed Osama bin Laden’s “Declaration of War against the Americans” to Muslims in Germany.29 It was not clear why he was presented to a judge. According to Der Spiegel journalist Holger Stark, this was no mere interrogation but actually a “trial”, which was “not open to the public”.30 At the time he made the aforementioned admission, Osama bin Laden was already widely considered as the instigator of the 9/11 attacks. German officials knew after 9/11 that Zammar had in the past entertained “intensive contacts” with the alleged perpetrators of 9/11, i.e. to Atta, Alshehhi and Jarrah, as well as to the fugitive Ramzi Binalshibh.31 The authorities also knew that Zammar travelled extensively but had not the financial means to pay for his travel himself. The fact that Zammar was interrogated shortly after 9/11 was not reported at the time in German media. Yet, Der Spiegel was apparently informed of Zammar’s interrogation, for it interviewed Zammar four days later.32 But Der Spiegel mentioned its interview only in 2002. In its extensive report regarding the Hamburg group published on October 15, 2001, Der Spiegel did not mention Zammar at all.33 The contents of Der Spiegel’s interview with Zammar were never published.
It took four weeks after Zammar’s interrogation for Germany’s Attorney General’s Office to initiate a criminal investigation of Zammar as a suspected supporter of a terrorist organisation. The evidence prompting this criminal investigation included – in addition to what the authorities knew before 9/11 –incomplete and untrue statements made by Zammar to the judge on September 17, particularly about his contacts withthe alleged perpetrators of 9/11.34 It was revealed in 2007 that the investigation of Zammar, initiated in 2001, had not yet been closed.35
It was revealed in the report of the Commission of Inquiry of the Bundestag, that merely hours after the 9/11 attacks, the decision was adopted by the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) to establish a special unit, entitled “Besondere Aufbauorganisation USA” (BAO USA) – a peculiar name given to that unit – whose role was to “take the appropriate measures regarding the investigations by the Office of the Attorney General in relation to the attacks of 9/11 and to ensure national and international obligations of informational cooperation.”36The unit employed at times more than 600 people37, and hosted at one time fifteen FBI agents.38 The then director of the Office of the Chancellor, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told to the Commission of Inquiry: “It was and remains for me entirely self-evident that we cooperate – within our law – with the USA.The USA together with our European partners are and remain allies, also and particularly in the struggle against international terrorism.”39
Manfred Klink, who headed in 2001 the BAO-USA task force, informed the Commission of Inquiry, that Zammar was considered at the time “a very dangerous islamist fundamentalist, who could be expected at any time to participate in plotting new terrorist attacks.”40 Due to the alleged dangerousness of Zammar, the Office of the Attorney General also instituted after 9/11 a covert and systematic observation of Zammar. On the base of this observation, German officials learned that Zammar had booked a flight to Morocco.The Attorney General kept Germany’s Chancellor’s Office informed about both the investigation and the surveillance.41 Germany’s leaders manifestly considered Zammar as a key player in a murky operation.
Yet, officials explained later that the evidence on Zammar they possessed was not sufficient for detaining him as a suspect.Transcripts of his interrogations by German officials have not been released to the public, though The New York Times somehow obtained a copy of one such transcript from which it selectively quoted certain phrases.42
7. Officials allowed Zammar to leave Germany while he was under investigation
Germany’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) was aware early on, that Zammar, while being investigated in relation to 9/11,planned to travel abroad, allegedly for personal reasons.On the base of surveillance, the OAG knew that Zammar inquired on October 17, 2001 about travel plans at the Hamburg airport.The OAG was also aware that on October 18, Zammar – claiming that he had lost his passport43 – attempted to obtain a temporary replacement passport, booked on October 24 a return flight from Hamburg to Casablanca and applied and obtained on that same day a temporary passport. The chief of the Customer Service Center at Hamburg North, Ms. Wolter, whose competence includes the issuance of passports, testified before the Commission of Inquiry that immediately after Zammar left the Center, a police officer came and told her that Zammar was under police observation. The officer wanted to know what Zammar was doing there.44
The authorities admit that they did not attempt to impede or at least delay Zammar’s travel, although he was under criminal investigation in relation to the mass-murder of 9/11. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) was actually advised by the OAG that in the case of Zammar’s departure from Germany, he should not be arrested,45 suggesting thereby the need to override an existing injunction to ban Zammar’s departure from Germany.
According to Kay Nehm, who served in 2001 as Germany’s Attorney General, he claimed before the Commission of Inquiry, that the authorities possessed in 2001 no legal means to prevent Zammar’s departure from the country.46 His claim was endorsed by the former head of the German “FBI” (BKA), Dr. Ulrich Kersten.47 This claim was, however, rejected as ludicrous by members of the opposition.48 Mounir el-Motassadeq, for example, who in the fall of 2001 was also designated by German authorities as a suspect by virtue of his friendship with Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, was actually arrested and detained in order to prevent him from leaving Germany. Yet, in his case, no evidence existed at the time – or at any time later – of any connections between him and Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. The differential treatment of Mounir el Motassadeq and Zammar suggests that German authorities were not truthful about their alleged inability to prevent or delay Zammar’s departure from Germany.
The President of the BfV (Germany’s domestic intelligence service), Heinz Fromm, asked by members of the Commission of Inquiry why the authorities let Zammar, a “dangerous suspect”, leave Germany, gave the curious answer that “when he is not here, he cannot do much damage.”49 It was not reported whether the Commission’s members sniggered.
According to the German newspaper Welt Online, Zammar left Germany for Morocco on October 27, 2001. His car was reportedly found abandoned in a [Hamburg] street.50
Dr. Hansjörg Geiger, who at the time served as the Chief of the Ministry of Justice, told the Commission of Inquiry that Kay Nehm informed him on October 25, 2001 of the impending departure of Zammar from Germany scheduled two days later.51 In parallel, the coordinator of the German BND (Federal intelligence service),, Ernst Uhrlau, informed the Office of the Chancellor on October 22 or 23 about Zammar’s plans to leave Germany.52 A discussion about Zammar’s impending departure from Germany took place on October 26, 2001 at the Office of the Chancellor.53 Such high level interest in the movements of Zammar and the reluctance to arrest him, suggests that he was as a key government asset.
Another person connected to the group surrounding Mohamed Atta, who was also under surveillance by German intelligence, was Sa’eed Bahaji. He also left Germany while under observation. An unidenfied official of the BfV, using the pseudonym Jürgen Lindweiler, testified in Mounir el Motassadeq’s trial in 2003, that border control officials had to notify the BfV, should Bahaji leave Germany. He was not to be arrested but his departure date had to be immediately notified to the BfV. Yet, when Bahaji left Germany, the system surprisingly failed because the BfV was not notified about his departure.54 Was Bahaji’s departure from Germany also facilitated by the authorities?
8. German officials informed Dutch, Moroccan and U.S. intelligence services in advance about Zammar’s travels
The German authorities informed on October 26, 2001, Dutch55, Moroccan56 and U.S. authorities57 about Zammar’s travel plans, flight numbers, etc., and requested that they check whether he actually carried out his flights.58 The Moroccan authorities were reportedly informed by their German counterparts that Zammar was under criminal investigation in Germany for allegedly supporting a terrorist organisation and that he was known to have had contact with the fugitives Bahaji, Binalshibh and Essebar, accused to have been indirectly involved in the mass-murder of 9/11.59 Mr. Kröschel, who testified before the Commission of Inquiry, claimed that the main reason for informing the Moroccan authorities of Zammar’s travel was to warn the Moroccans: “Beware, here comes someone who is suspected here to have had strong contacts with the perpetrators of 9/11! He is suspected and accused here to be a supporter. Beware!”60 On November 26, 2001, German officials transmitted to the FBI information about Zammar’s family circumstances, in addition to travel details.61 It is not known what was the purpose of providing such information to the FBI.
German officials claim that they could not have envisaged at the time that, should Zammar leave Germany, he might be abducted by U.S. officials and “rendered” to a third country.62 Yet, according to a report by the Special Expert of the European Council on U.S. renditions, Dick Marty, U.S. allies were informed at a secret meeting held at the fringe of the NATO Council, as early as on October 2, 2001, about the U.S.rendition practice.63 The European chief of the CIA, Tyler Drumheller, corroborated in an interview with the German weekly STERN of March 11, 2008, that European governments and intelligence services were aware of the renditions’ practice already in the fall of 2001.64 He emphasized that he knows both Ernst Uhrlau, the then President of the BND and Dr. Steinmeier, personally, whom he said he met in the Chancellor’s Office in the fall of 2001. According to him the Germans expressed their displeasure at the time about unilateral U.S. “renditions” of terrorists from European soil, carried out without the permission of the respective governments. The CIA had then, according to Drumheller, “promised to involve our allies in the operations.” German officials, including Uhrlau and Steinmeier, emphatically rejected Drumheller’s allegations. Uhrlau said he “does not remember” having met Drumheller in the fall of 2001 but remembers having met him in Russia during a conference in 2002.65 However, he denied to have discussed renditions with him. Dr. Steinmeier, for his part, denied to have ever known, let alone met, Mr. Drumheller.66 Due to the status of Tyler Drumheller,as the chief of CIA in Europe,it is difficult to take these denials at face value.
9. Zammar disappears
Zammar was supposed to return from Morocco to Germany on December 8th, 2001. However, he did not show up to his flight. He later, when he was in Syrian detention, told a German consular official that he had been arrested in Morocco on December 8th, 2001, held there for 23 days and moved to Syria in the beginning of 2002.67
On December 13, 2001, an official of the BKA, Mr. Calame, learned that Zammar had been arrested by the Moroccan authorities.68 Yet, upon requests for information, the Moroccan authorities lied repeatedly to their German counterparts about Zammar’s fate: First, they denied that Zammar entered Morocco on October 27, 2001.69 Then they told the Germans that Zammar had left Morocco on August 15, 2001, i.e.long before his current entry into Morocco (there was no evidence that Zammar had at all traveled to Morocco in August 2001).70 Zammar was then said to have left Morocco through Agadir airport.71 Another time, that he left for Spain.72 A third time that he was expelled to Spain.73 A fourth time that he left for an “unknown destination.”74 Although aware of Morocco’s lies regarding Zammar, German officials refrained from asking their Moroccan counterparts about the circumstances of Zammar’s arrest.75 German leaders – previously anxious to be informed about the movements of that particular individual – allegedly refrained to inquire about Zammar’s fate.76 On June 5, 2002 – five months after his “rendition” – the Moroccan authorities informed the BKA that Zammar was expelled to Spain on December 27, 2001 and was now in Syria.77
According to a Spiegel report of January 8, 2007, based on a memorandum from the German embassy in Washington, D.C., representatives of the State Department told German embassy officials that Germany “should not undertake steps against Morocco regarding Zammar because Morocco had acted expressly at the request of the United States.“78 Asked whether to his opinion Germany had been lied to by ”friendly partners”, Mr. Uhrlau admitted that this had been the case.79 He added that one cannot always expect from partners truthful answers to questions.80 Indeed, “friendly partners” are not necessarily true friends.
At this point, it might be useful to recall that Zammar was a German citizen who was at the time under investigation in Germany as a extremist Muslim with an Al Qaeda background, and a friend of the alleged perpetrators of 9/11.The officially displayed disinterest in seeking information about the fate of Zammar was therefore most likely contrived.
At no time then or thereafter, did German officials criticize Morocco for the arrest and the kidnapping of Zammar.Not in the least offended by Moroccan lies, a delegation of the BKA that comprised the vice-president of the agency, Bernard Falk, visited Morocco between April 8 and 12, 2002 in order to strengthen the cooperation between the BKA and the respective Moroccan agency.81 Between May 14 and 17, 2002, a delegation of the Moroccan DGST (the Moroccan secret services), visited the headquarters of the BKA in Meckenheim (Germany), to further develop intelligence cooperation.82 These meetings did not – according to testimonies before the Commission of Inquiry – yield information about the fate of Zammar.83 Officials of the DGST claimed they had no idea of hisfate.
10. Zammar was “rendered” by the CIA to Syria
In June 2002, it was reported for the first time that Zammar had been “rendered” by the CIA from Morocco to Syria after being detained by the Moroccan authorities. The exact circumstances of his transfer to Syria were not revealed. The Commission of Inquiry of the Bundestag concluded in their final report that, in spite of questioning hundreds of witnesses, including high officials, it could not determine when and where Zammar was arrested and when and how he was transferred to Syria.84 Were German officials unable to obtain this information from Morocco and the U.S. or did they suppress their knowledge while testifying before a parliamentary commission?
Yet, three months earlier, in March 2002, a delegation of the BND visited Syria and was given a five-page “study” on Zammar. The “study” was not released to the Commission of Inquiry because its release would – so the German government – endanger Germany’s the state’s welfare (Staatswohl).85 One may be justified in asking what prompted the BND to travel to Syria in March 2002, and what prompted the Syrian government to hand such a “study” to the BND. According to a BKA memorandum of June 20, 2002, cited in the Commission’s report, the Zammar “study” contains “detailed information to his personal surroundings, in relation to his presence in Hamburg and his contacts there. The study also designates Zammar as a recruiter of the 9/11 perpetrators and their supporters who lived in Hamburg.”86 No further details of the “study” are included in the Commission’s report. German officials, interviewed by the Commission, purported not to know who compiled the Zammar” study” and on which basis it was compiled.
Another delegation, headed by the President of the BND, visited Syria on May 16/17, 2002 to further develop intelligence cooperation.87 This was followed by a week-long visit in Germany between July 6 to July 13, 2002, by a Syrian delegation headed by General Asef Shaukat, vice-chairman of Syria’s military intelligence service, who is apparently also the brother-in-law of Syria’s president.88 At this meeting, the German side did not request to obtain access to Zammar. Those who participated in the meeting said that the case of Zammar was not discussed.89
Shortly thereafter, a delegation headed by Dr. Kersten, president of the BKA, visited Damascus between July 29 to 31, 2002. The declared purpose of the visit was to ameliorate the cooperation between the countries in the fight against illegal migration and the struggle against “islamist terrorism”.90 The case Zammar was only mentioned as an aside.Cooperation between Germany and Syria in police and security matters began decades ago and continued at least until the year 2012:Syrian refugees in Germany, including teenagers, were routinely deported to Syria, in the knowledge that they might be arrested and tortured in their home country.91 According to a CIA official, cited by Dick Marty, “when one wishes to have prisoner seriously interrogated, one sends him to Jordan. When one wants him to be tortured, one sends him to Syria.When one wishes him to disappear from this earth, one sends him to Egypt.”92 The German BND, incidentally, cooperates also with the Egyptian secret services.
Another delegation from Germany, composed of representatives from the BND, the BfV and the BKA, visited Syria weeks later, in order to continue its discussions on intelligence cooperation between the countries.93Not much is known about the real purpose of that particular visit.Asked whether the German delegation requested from the Syrian side that Zammar be allowed to be questioned in Germany, Fromm told the Commission of Inquiry that he does not remember whether this was mentioned. He said: “I guess that this issue was not pursued, perhaps the idea did not even occur [to us], because it appeared unrealistic at this juncture to make this demand.”94
According to media reports that appeared in 2002, possibly based on the Zammar “study”, Zammar claimed to have recruited Mohamed Atta and other members of the “Hamburg group” as volunteers for training in Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan.95 On that ground alone, Germany’s judicial authorities should have possessed a vital interest in having him testify before a German court. Their aversion to such a deposition indicates that, on the contrary, their vital interest(and that of the German leadership) resided in keeping Zammar beyond the reach of German courts and media.
Indeed, after learning that Zammar was detained in Syria, German authorities undertook no efforts to have this German citizen returned to Germany, even in the knowledge that he might be tortured and could be sentenced to death.
At the time, Germany held in custody two Syrian nationals, who were arrested in December 200196 and accused of spying on Syrian nationals living in Germany.97 Under pressure from Syria, the German government waived criminal charges against these two Syrian intelligence agents and accepted to upgrade its intelligence cooperation with Syria. German officials emphatically denied that their decision to free these agents had anything to do with Syria’s cooperation regarding Zammar (whatever the nature of this cooperation!)98, Germany Ministry of Justice advised on July 22, 2002, that lifting the charges against the Syrians agents was related to the “geopolitical situation concerning the war on terrorism”, whatever that meant.99 The former Director of the Ministry of Justice, Dr. Geiger, testified before the Commission of Inquiry that the decision not to press the charges against the Syrian agents was based on an “overriding public interest”, whatever that meant.100 He said that the Zammar case did not play any role in lifting the charges. The sole reason for doing so were “the security considerations of the German Federal Republic”, whatever that meant.101
11. Germany acquiesces to Zammar’s incarceration and torture in Syria
German authorities knew that political detainees in Syria are routinely tortured but did not ask the Syrian authorities to spare Zammar from torture. They accepted to interview Zammar in the knowledge that he may have been tortured. Before they met to interview Zammar in November 2002, they Syrian authorities had for three days “prepared Zammar for questioning to make him sufficiently cooperative.”102 as formulated in the report of the Commission of Inquiry. German officials were allowed to meet him on November 21, 22 and 23, 2002 for a total of 13 hours and 20 minutes in the presence of a Syrian official.103 The report by the Commission does not explain what was the nature of Zammar’s three-day “preparation” and apparently no Commission member was curious to know. German officials interviewed by the Commission conceded that torture is practiced routinely in Syria, but argued that Germany must also cooperate, including on intelligence and police matters, with countries that practice torture.104 According to Dr. Hanning, the only possibility to interrogate Zammar was that provided by the Syrians on Syrian soil:“Zammar was deemed one of the main threats in the Hamburg environment and we possessed therefore an overriding interest, from a security perspective, to access Zammar and question him.” German officials did not provide details about the content of their questioning of Zammar; in their testimony to the Commission of Inquiry the mainly described Zammar’s outward appearance, demeanor and willingness to talk, and the logistics surrounding the interrogations.105
According to Amnesty International, Zammar was described in October 2004 in a “skeletal” physical condition as a result of “three years’ incommunicado detention in Far’ Falastin without charge, in prolonged, solitary confinement in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.”106 In 2006, the Syrian Higher State Security Court sentenced Zammar to life imprisonment, commuted to 12 years, accused of being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.107 Apparently the Syrian prosecutors used information provided by German services, including evidence of Zammar’s stints in training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia, to convict Zammar.108 According to German officials, they did not attend Zammar’s trial. According to a report by Amnesty International from 2005, Zammar has not been seen by any outsider, including family members and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, after German officials saw him last in November 2002.109
12.German court is denied protocols of Zammar’s interrogations
The BND sent to the Syrian secret service on July 20, 2002, a catalogue of questions to submit to Zammar and repeatedly received results from interrogations carried out by Syrian officials.110
On January 29, 2003, counsel for Mounir el Motassadeq, who was standing trial in Hamburg, requested that (1) Zammar be allowed to testify as witness for the defense and that (2) the protocols of the interrogations of Zammar as well as the answers to the catalogue of questions submitted to the Syrian interrogators, be entered as exhibits to the trial.111 Counsel argued that Zammar’s testimonies might exculpate their client.
On February 3, 2003, the Office of the German Chancellor sent to the Attorney General, the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice and the BND, a declaration in which it justifies its endorsement of BND’s refusal to release to the court evidence and documents relative to Zammar.112 The main justification for the refusal was that it would cause “disadvantage to the welfare of the Federal Republic of Germany”, whatever that means. According to the Chancellor’s Office, the BND is entitled to withhold from the court information about the whereabouts of Zammar, as well as the contents and the source of documents about him. On the same day, the Ministry of Interior issued a similar paper.113
One day later, on February 4, 2003, the Hamburg court– having presumably been informed of the above documents –issued two Decisions. In its first Decision,114 it rejected the request by defense counsel for the protocols of Zammar’s interrogations that took place in Morocco.The court claimed that such protocols do not exist.
In its second Decision,115 the court rejected the request by defense counsel to produce Zammar as a witness and to produce the protocols of Zammar’s interrogations in Germany and Syria. The court claimed that Zammar’s testimony is not necessary for establishing the truth in the case before trial. The court also argued that it is unlikely that Syria would permit Zammar to testify, even if this were done through a simultaneous video transmission. The court based its conclusion on the decisions by Germany’s Office of the Chancellor and by the Ministry of Interior of January 30, 2003 and February 3, 2003 to refuse access to documents concerning the interrogations of Zammar in Syria.The court added that, on the base of Zammar’s interrogation of September 17, 2001 in Germany, it appears unlikely that Zammar, even if he were allowed to testify, would provide new information relevant to the present trial, for in theinterrogation of September 17, 2001, Zammar refused to answer questions regarding Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and Ziad Jarrah, three of the alleged suicide-pilots of 9/11. In that interrogation – according to the court’s Decision – Zammar claimed that he did not know Binalshibh and Essabar.Should he have lied about these facts in October 2001 – so the court – he would certainly refuse to contradict his former statements and thus incriminate himself in perjury.It was therefore unlikely, so the court, that Zammar would make any statements that might exculpate the accused. The court thus reasoned, that his appearance before the court would be superfluous!
On appeal by defense counsel to the Federal Administrative Court (FAC), the FAC upheld on February 10, 2003116 the lower court’s refusal to ask for the appearance of Zammar and for the release of the protocols of his interrogations, arguing that the German authorities had pledged to the Syrian services strict confidentiality. The FAC uncritically espoused the government’s position that releasing such information to the court would “significantly harm the “welfare of the Federal Republic of Germany”, whatever that means.117 The FAC argued that if the confidentiality promise were breached, Germany would be excluded from further information exchange between intelligence services in the so-called war on terrorism and particularly from cooperation with Syria.118 The FAC did not explain in its ruling how the release of protocols of Zammar’s interrogation, in so far as they relate to the particular court case, could harm the welfare of the nation.The decision by the FAC did not, incidentally, spell out the limits beyond which it would be unlawful or even treasonous for German government officials to promise foreign governments total confidentiality and thereby undermine their democratic accountability to their own citizens.
13. Zammar and Germany’s alleged national interest
A central argument proffered by the German government in support of its suppression of information obtained from Zammar, was that it pledged to the Syrian government not to reveal this information. To violate this pledge would endanger intelligence cooperation with Syria and more generally the credibility of German intelligence agencies. Syria, said Dr. Steinmeier, “belonged at the time to the allies of the West in the war on terror” and was no longer a “rogue state” because it condemned the 9/11 attacks and announced its readiness to participate in the “war against terrorism”. “We needed Syria’s active cooperation,“ said Steinmeier, “because the perpetrators of 9/11 maintained contacts to members of the Syrian Muslim brothers” and “we needed Syria as a constructive partner to prevent an explosion of the Middle East conflict after 9/11.”119The former president of the BND, Dr. Hanning, also emphasized to the Commission of Inquiry the importance of intelligence cooperation with Syria in the war on terror. Syria played a very important role in this matter, he said.120 He did not specify the nature of that “very important role.”
More generally, the German administration, through its various departments, argued that intelligence cooperation with other countries would suffer grave damage, if information transmitted confidentially by foreign services to German intelligence agencies, would be provided to “third parties”, including judicial authorities.
The Commission of Inquiry repeatedly requested, through the Syrian Embassy in Germany, to be allowed to interview Zammar. The Embassy reportedly did not answer a single request. Was this refusal solely based on Syrian domestic considerations or did the governments of the United States and Germany ask Syria to ignore these requests”The fact that the United States kidnapped Zammar and forcefully transferred him to Syria and that German authorities did not press for his return to Germany, suggests, however, a collusion between the three governments.
14. Why do German authorities want Zammar outside the reach of German courts?
As shown above, every move by the German authorities in relation to Zammar demonstrates the existence of a policy, adopted at the highest echelons of German politics, to remove Zammar from the reach of German courts and media. The interest shown by the highest echelons of German politics to the case of Zammar indicates that he was certainly not a “marginal figure” from their perspective.
If Zammar was no “marginal figure”, what was his role? He either was an Al Qaeda operative believed by the German authorities to be highly dangerous, or an asset of German and/or American intelligence services, whose role was to induce Muslims to become “jihadists” and spend some time in an alleged Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan. After their return home, they would become ideal targets for a media-savvy “war on terrorism.”
Had Zammar been regarded by the German authorities as a highly dangerous Al Qaeda operative, the question would arise why they did not interrogate or detain him before 9/11 and why they let him leave Germany after 9/11, although they had known virtually everything about him for years, including his alleged radical views, his contacts with suspected terrorists, his trips to Afghanistan and his lack of means to finance his frequent trips. Apologists for the German government, such as journalists of Der Spiegel, argue that before 9/11 “no one was concerned about Al Qaeda” and that those who listened to Zammar’s phone calls before 9/11 did not “connect the dots”. This explanation is tenuous and does not explain why he was not arrested after 9/11, when it transpired that he may have facilitated the travel of the alleged perpetrators of 9/11 to Afghanistan.After the bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 – the largest terrorist attacks committed anywhere in that year – the U.S. designated Osama bin Laden as the main suspect for these attacks. As a U.S. ally, the German authorities would have certainly been asked to cooperate in the investigation by monitoring and interrogating individuals residing in Germany suspected of connections to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Zammar was known at the time as one of the most prominent contacts to Al Qaeda living in Germany. His contacts to other “jihadists”, as mentioned above, provided further reasons for the German authorities to consider him, even before 9/11, a dangerous person, had he been a genuine “jihadist.”
The failure of the German authorities to act on Zammar’s alleged menace, both before and after 9/11, strongly suggests that Zammar played a radically different role from that attributed to him by government officials.
Is it possible, for instance, that Zammar actually accepted the reported proposal of the German BfV in 1996 to act as an informant (see above)”In that case, he would have been an asset in a covert strategy managed by U.S. and German intelligence and abetted by Moroccan and Syrian services. His role would have been to pose as a true “jihadist” and induce young Muslims to go for training to Pakistan or Afghanistan in camps led by Osama bin Laden. In order to understand the rationale for such a policy, we must briefly digress from our subject and point out what strategical benefits the West would gain by such a policy.
Around 1990, the Soviet bloc imploded. For over 40 years, the Warsaw Pact, led by Moscow, served as the main threat to the West, contributed to NATO’s political cohesion and justified a high level of military expenditures by the United States and its allies. The disappearance of that external perceived threat threatened to make NATO redundant and severely affect the revenues of the extremely profitable military-industrial complex. While the majority of ordinary people could then hope to enjoy the “peace dividend”, those dependent upon an external threat for their profit, searched for a new epochal threat that would maintain their revenues. In addition, the United States – now the sole remaining super-power – faced a unique historical opportunity to secure its long-term global hegemony. To do so, however, required the support of the American public and such support depended upon public perception of an external existential threat. It was thus both imperative and urgent for U.S. strategists to find a credible “threat” that would profitably supplant the Red Threat. No single state or group of states could at that time be credibly regarded as fulfilling this role. An alternative was therefore sought. It was found in the guise of an “Islamic global terrorist network” that would be manufactured and nurtured.121 This invention was a genial – and Machiavellian – strike of the mind:As most oil resources in the world lie under the feet of Muslims, the quest to control these resources by military means could be usefully be concealed behind policing efforts to battle “Islamic terrorists” hosted in such countries. Another advantage of this mythical construction was that authorities in Western nations could justify increased “security” measures, such as mass surveillance of telephone and internet communications, by the need to discover potential “Islamic terrorists” among the Muslims living in the particular country.
To successfully implement this strategy, Western intelligence agencies need to maintain an large pool of wannabe terrorists, agents provocateurs, hate preachers and big-mouthed jihadists, whose mainly verbal feats are useful media feed and help to promote the myth of Islamic terrorism. The initial “raw material” for that mythical network – trade-marked Al Qaeda – were the so-called Arab Afghans, who after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, found themselves unemployed and looking for new sponsors. Their new sponsors were Western intelligence agencies, acting behind the façade of Saudi and Pakistani handlers, in order to conceal their own hands.122 In order to maintain the supply of such “jihadists”, recruiters ensure a continuous flow of wannabe fighters to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who could later be arrested as terrorist suspects and ensure regular media coverage of the “terrorist threat.”It is beyond the scope of this study to elaborate upon this development. This network – financed and managed by Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services, but ultimately serving a Western strategical concept – is now operating globally in furtherance of imperial design (the most recent example being Syria).
The conduct of German officials strongly suggests that Mohammad Haydar Zammar played a role within this covert strategy.He reportedly said he ensured that Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and Ziad Jarrah would go to Afghanistan for training. These three persons were famously accused by the United States authorities to have flown three of the four aircraft that allegedly crashed on 9/11. There is, however, no evidence whatsoever, that they boarded these aircraft.123
For two of them – Atta and Alshehhi – there is no reliable evidence, that they ever went to the United States.124 By inducing them to make a stint in a training camp in Afghanistan, they could later be linked to Al Qaeda. Their presence in Afghanistan was indeed relied upon by the Hamburg Higher Regional Court (Oberlandsgericht) in the case of Mounir el Motassadeq in order to “prove”, as it were, their terrorist inclination.125 Had this been one of Zammar’s roles, it would explain why he had to be removed from German jurisdiction, maintained outside the reach of German courts and media and why the intercepts of his phone calls, surveillance logs and protocols of his interrogations are kept secret.
The present case provides a glimpse into the systematic deception of the tax-paying public carried by German intelligence agencies, the absence of effective parliamentary control of these agencies, the lack of independence of German judicial authorities, and the deplorable deference of German leaders to Washington’s imperial strategy.
BAO USA: Besondere Aufbauorganisation USA
BfV: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz
BKA: Bundeskriminalamt (German Federal Criminal Police Office)
COI: Commission of Inquiry of the German Parliament (Bundestag) set up to investigate the cooperation of German government bodies with CIA “renditions” of alleged terror suspects
FAC:Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court)
OAG:Bundesstaatsanwalt (Germany’s Office of the Attorney General)
5. According to Ulrich – supra n. 3 –, German officials started already in 1997a monitoring operation of Zammar and his contacts, entitled Operation Tenderness (Operation Zartheit). According to Dominik Cziesche, Georg Mascolo and Holger Stark, “Das Puzzle lag auf dem Tisch”, Der Spiegel, 3 February 2003, the German BfV intercepted telephone communications of the group surrounding Mohamed Atta since 1996.According to Peter Finn (“Hamburg’s Cauldron of Terror”, Washington Post, 11 September 2002), Brinkbäumer (supra n. 1) and Ulrich (supra n. 3), German intelligence placed Zammar under surveillance after being tipped by Turkish authorities that he had passed Istanbul and Ankara on his way to various war zones over 40 times. According to Vanity Fair (“The Price of Failure”, November 2004), the BfV was tipped off by Turkish intelligence in 1996 that Zammar had been traveling the globe to trouble spots: more than 40 journeys in all, to such places as Bosnia and Chechnya.
28. According to Butler (supra n. 4), “10 days after the attacks” of 9/11.According to DW (supra n. 2) “in the middle of October ”.Ultimately, it was revealed in an address to the German parliamentary commission that Zammar was made to appear before a judge on September 17, 2001, that is six days after 9/11.See infra n. 29, p. 217.
29. Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry of the Bundestag (“Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des 1. Untersuchungsausschusses nach Artikel 44 des Grundgesetzes”)Berlin, 18 June2009, Document 16/13400, p. 217
62. Renditions is the term used for the practice by the CIA to abduct alleged terror suspects and transfer them to various secret prisons around the world, or deliver them to certain states in order to be tortured or “eliminated.”This unlawful and criminal practice has called forth widespread outrage.
73. Final Report (…),supra n. 29, p. 228.In a latter communication from the Moroccan Ministry of Interior, January 22, 2002, Zammar was said to have been “deported” from Morocco, but the destination was not anymore given as Spain.It was unspecified; see also Georg Mascolo and Holger Stark, “Mysteriöse Auskunft”, Der Spiegel, 15 April 2002
121. No empirical evidence has ever been produced by NATO, the United Nations and Western governments, that international terrorism is a serious threat to any Western nation, let alone to “world peace”. More people did in the Western world from lightning strikes than in terrorist attacks.More people are killed yearly in the U.S. alone than worldwide in terror attacks.In Germany, home to approximately four million Muslims, no German national has ever been killed in Islamic terrorism. Yet, the myth of the terrorist threat is regularly promoted by the authorities and by complying media.
125. Court documents in the case of Mounir El Motassadeq (in German)