Our Man In The Mosque (Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung) (2-2-2003)

“Aysel S will never forget September 13, 2001. On that day, the 27 year old Turkish woman was discharged from hospital—she had her tonsils removed. At home, the student of dental medicine found several messages on her answering machine. Among them the following: She should urgently contact the flight school of her friend in Florida. Aysel S immediately suspected that something must have happened. She had talked to him on September 11 for the last time. The young woman went to the police to report a missing person. Missing: Ziad Jarrah, born on May 11, 1975 in Lebanon. Last known residence: Florida, US. She called the flight school in America from the police department Bochum in the presence of a policeman. “Do you have a message?” she asked Ziad Jarrah’s flight instructor.

The answer: “We only know that he was wanted here. And the only message that we have is that he is not alive anymore.” Aysel collapsed. Now she was sure of what she had feared for two days; the man whom she married secretly was a mass murderer. Ziad Jarrah sat behind the controls of the hijacked United Airlines plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, after terrorists had hijacked the plane. The 26 year old Lebanese was one of the conspirators of September 11, who had planned and executed the attacks.

Immediately after the terror attacks, the biggest search in police history unfolded. 6000 FBI agents followed the traces of the perpetrators, who were identified within 24 hours. The most important lead pointed to Germany. There, 500 investigators of the Federal Investigation Authority (BKA) and several state investigation authorities supported the search. The efficiency of the investigation authorities and intelligence agencies seemed impressive.

For Aysel S, an interrogation marathon started; she was interrogated by the BKA for ten days altogether. In a search of her house, they confiscated letters, books, CD-ROMs, photos and negatives. One of the photos showed a group of young Arabs. Aysel S recognized none of them. Later, however, eighteen of the 22 men were identified, eleven of them (ten by name) by the Hamburg state internal intelligence service (LfV), among them suicide pilot Mohammed Atta as well as Ramzi Binalshibh, who disappeared short before the attacks, and Mounir Al Motassadeq, whose court case concerning assistance to several thousand murders has benn under way in Hamburg for months.

In the group photo, the policemen found a negative index that shows that the film was developed on April 1, 1999. All pictures were apparently taken by Ziad Jarrah, and therefore, the BKA assumes, he also took the group photo. But the investigators at first could not find out where the photo was taken. The intelligence agents from Hamburg, however, knew the place; the prayer room of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg Steindamm.

Why could the state internal intelligence agency identify the mosque (as well as the men on the picture) so quickly? Reinhard Wagner, president of the Hamburg state internal intelligence service until August 2002, affirmed after the attacks of September 11 that his service knew nothing about the perpetrators. And he added: “It is difficult to recruit an informant in the scene.”

Documents in possession of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung [Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily newspaper] speak a different language. The LfV had a collaborator, who was able to supply detailed information on the Al-Quds mosque and its radical regulars. The documents furthermore contradict the often repeated thesis that the terrorists were so-called sleepers who only had to be “activated” upon a signal. Instead, the three suicide pilots and their helpers came together under the noses of various intelligence services and planned probably the most spectacular terror attack in history—while they were being watched.

The explanations by the LfV regarding the confiscated group photo suggest that the perpetrators were in the focus of the intelligence services already years before the attacks. The LfV spy not only recognized the mosque on the photo; he could also confirm that the photo was taken in spring 1999: “The period, during which the photo has been taken, can be limited, because the carpet was renewed about two years ago. The old carpet was replaced by a green-white carpet.”

The LfV collaborator apparently had even much more detailed knowledge about what happened in the Al-Quds mosque; he identified also on the group photo Abdelghani Mzoudi, who has been arrested since. The 30 year old Moroccan is soon to stand trial in connection with the attacks of September 11 in a German court. The LfV seems to have been interested in Mzoudi’s activities since long before the attacks of September 11.

At least, he appeared so important to the LfV agents that they noted even seemingly trivial details. Mzoudi, according to a note by LfV, “cleans and cooks together with person 4 (Abderrazek L.) in the Al-Kods mosque.” Some men that can be seen on the group photo have left Hamburg already in 1999—yet the informant could identify them anyhow.

Furthermore, more meeting points of the suicide pilots were known to the informant; he knew for example the “Islam AG”, which Mohammed Atta had founded together with other students in 1999 at the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg. The LfV collaborator could match the men on the photo with the Islam AG, among them Mohammed Raji—who is “a north African, member of Islam AG”. On the group photo, Mohammed Atta is smiling, leaning on the shoulders of Mohammed Raji.

Raji was arrested immediately after September 11 in Hamburg—he was working at the airport at the time. He was released, because not enough evidence could be gathered at first. Raji quickly moved to Morocco, after encouraging an insider of the Hamburg islamist scene to get rid of telephone numbers and contact addresses.

Raji was known as a radical Islamist long before September 11 not only to the Hamburg internal intelligence service. The federal internal intelligence service BfV in Cologne had him in focus as well, like probably almost all members of the Hamburg terror cell. According to BfV investigations, Raji was follower of the “Takfir wal Hijra” movement. According to an internal report of BfV, this group supported theft, drug trafficking and blackmail in order to be able to conduct “the fight according to Islam”. As Takfir follower, Raji has among others contacts to activists in southern Germany.

The BfV had not only Raji on their radar, but also other Islamists who belonged to the inner circle of the terror cell. Among them Mounir Al Motassadeq, whose trial at the Hamburg supreme court is being concluded. Motassadeq was being observed by BfV already since 1999, without the authorities being able to snif out the preparations of the terror attack. For example, Motassadeq traveled with knowledge of BfV via Istanbul to Pakistan, and from there further to a training camp of Al Qaida, where he received training as terrorist.

After these facts have been reported in detail by this newspaper three weeks ago, a representative of BfV had to appear as witness in the Hamburg court case. The official notes of BfV in the court proceedings left open the important question: Why of all people was only Motassadeq being observed? Or were maybe the others also being observed, in particular the suicide pilots and their close collaborators?

An “instructed representative” of BfV, cover name “Jürgen Lindweiler”, said last Wednesday succinctly: Said Bahaji was also being observed by BfV. Bahaji was one of the most important supporters of the Hamburg pilots and therefore very familiar with the timeline of the attacks—at least he knew exactly when it was time to disappear. Already in August 2001, Bahaji booked his tickets and escaped one week before the attacks from Hamburg to Afghanistan. According to the research by this newspaper, he was not traveling alone; he was accompanied by two Algerians—one of them was in close contact with Abu Zubaydah, one of the chief planners of Al Qaida.

The BfV actually was supposed to have been informed via fax of Bahaji’s escape. The BfV agent stated in court that Bahaji was being observed in the course of a “border search”. Thereby, the data of a suspect are stored in a search system, with the remark: do not arrest, but report the travel date to the BfV immediately. That means concretely: The federal border security would have had to inform the BfV via fax, whenever Bahaji left Germany.

If you want to believe the accounts of “Jürgen Lindweiler” in court, the system failed just at the time, when Bahaji escaped from Germany. The BfV has no faxes on Bahaji’s travel activities, according to “Lindweiler”. Another statement by “Lindweiler” is equally surprising, namely that the three suicide pilots from Hamburg and their helper Binalshibh did not appear in the search machinery of BfV.

Doubts are in place. In fall 1997, the BfV started a wide-ranging surveillance operation, “Operation Tenderness”. In focus: Mohammed Haydar Zammar. Zammar, who received military training in Pakistan in 1991 and concluded several operations as a holy warrior in Bosnia and Afghanistan until 1996, was invited to Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden personally, according to an internal paper of the internal intelligence service.

Zammar returned the favor by distributing Osama Bin Laden’s declaration of war to the United States in mosques in Hamburg. Later, Zammar established contacts to comrades in faith in Spain, Italy, and England; in London, he contacted the “spiritual leader” of Al Qaida in Europe.

While being observed by the BfV, Zammar helped build the European network of Al Qaida. Each time, when Zammar picked up the phone at home for that purpose and talked to European comrades in faith, the BfV was listening. The entire intelligence gathering repertoire was at disposal for the surveillance of Zammar, confirmed by a control committee of the Bundestag [lower house of the German parliament]; border search, telephone tapping, observation. However, Zammar did not appear “extremist”, claimed at least “Lindweiler” in court.

In reality, Zammar would have had to lead the BfV to the suicide pilots. During the calls that the BfV tapped, Mohammed Atta’s complete family name “Mohammed Atta Al Amir” was mentioned twice. The BfV however claims that “only first names were identified”, never last names. Of the second suicide pilot from Hamburg, even the phone number was registered; Al Shehhi talked to Zammar twice, both times in 1999, when the planning of the attacks entered their hot phase. During both calls, Zammar asks Al Shehhi, if he could not come from an unknown place to Hamburg already in March 1999.

It is not known whether there are notes with the German intelligence services on the third suicide pilot from Hamburg, Ziad Jarrah. However, Jarrah met regularly with people who were under surveillance. It is therefore difficult to imagine that the 26 year old Libanese was not also registered by the machinery of the intelligence services. Jarrah studied from 1997 onwards in Greifswald and met there with a Jemen citizen who was called “Abu Mohammed”.

This person in turn is known to the BfV as Hamas activist and “instigator”. The investigators suspect that Ziah Jarrah succumbed to the radical ideas of Abu Mohammed. Jarrah traveled later with him through Germany and met with other Islamists, among them the Islam convert Marcel K, vice president of the Islamic center in North-Rhine-Westphalia [German state bordering the Netherlands]. The Federal investigation service was investigating the president of the center since March 2001 with respect to membership in a terrorist organization.

Marcel K was apparently a close confidant of Jarrah, because Jarrah always called him before taking important decisions. This happened when Jarrah left for the Afghan training camp of Al Qaida, and when he started to apply for admission to American flight schools. He called Marcel K also during his pilot training, for the last time short before the attacks of September 11.

In Hamburg, where Jarrah frequented the mosques at Steindamm, he had met all the others who were being observed by the German services: Motassadeq, Zammar, Bahiji, Raji—and Binalshibh, who had already caught the eyes of the CIA. Therefore, the intelligence services had enough indications and hints about the perpetrators and their helpers already years before the attacks. However, not even the German authorities were able to exchange their information—possibly a fatal mistake.

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