On Monday, German authorities announced that they closed down the Taiba mosque in Hamburg. The mosque achieved infamy as home to several of the 9/11 plotters under its previous name -- Al Quds.
The name change was, undoubtedly, part of an attempt to rebrand the mosque after some of its members hijacked and crashed American airliners. It was a superficial change, though. The mosque continued to serve as a meeting ground for Islamist extremists and terrorists. Thus, the Germans, who along with other Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring the mosque for years, decided it needed to be shuttered.
None of this is surprising, especially when you consider who was in charge of the mosque: Imam Mamoun Darkazanli.
Darkazanli was one of the first suspected al Qaeda figures to have his accounts frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department and the United Nations following the September 11 attacks. He had established a lengthy dossier by then. Despite being a known extremist with a plethora of terrorist ties, however, Darkazanli has avoided a lengthy prison sentence.
How? German laws have consistently gotten in the way of bringing Darkazanli to justice.
According to Congress’s "Joint Inquiry Into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001," a report prepared by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Darkazanli first popped up on the CIA’s radar in 1993. The U.S. Intelligence Community investigated the imam after “a person arrested in Africa carrying false passports and counterfeit money was found with Darkazanli’s telephone number.” The Joint Inquiry found: “A CIA report notes that, despite careful scrutiny of Darkazanli and his business dealings, authorities were not able to make a case against him.”
Ironically, this same year (1993), Darkazanli purchased a ship for Osama bin Laden. Published reports say that Darkazanli bought a ship named “Jennifer” for al Qaeda’s CEO in 1993.
Darkazanli would garner attention within the U.S. Intelligence Community in the late 1990s. The FBI “became interested in Darkazanli in 1998,” the Joint Inquiry found, “after the arrests of Wadi El-Hage and Abu Hajer, operatives in Bin Ladin’s network.”
El Hage served as bin Laden’s personal secretary, managing the terror master’s vast rolodex. “According to FBI documents, Darkazanli’s fax and telephone numbers were listed in El-Hage’s address book,” the Joint Inquiry reported. El-Hage was convicted by a U.S. court for his involvement in al Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings.
Abu Hajer al Iraqi (whose real name is Mamdouh Mahmud Salim) is one the founding members of al Qaeda and he, too, resides in a U.S. prison. (During his time in custody, Abu Hajer stabbed a prison guard in the eye, blinding him.) Abu Hajer was arrested in Germany in 1998 and extradited to the U.S.
When the FBI investigated Abu Hajer’s finances, the Joint Inquiry notes, the Bureau“discovered that Darkazanli had power of attorney over a bank account belonging to Hajer, a high-ranking al-Qa’ida member who has severed on its Shura Council.”
Now, this should be obvious but it is worth an explicit note anyway: Senior al Qaeda members don’t hand over power of attorney to just anybody. Darkazanli must have been highly regarded within the terrorist organization for a senior terrorist like Abu Hajer to trust him.
Darkazanli worked with his fellow Syrian, Mohammed Zammar, in Germany for years. And the two forged close ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers. Just months after the FBI began investigating Darkazanli’s ties to Abu Hajer, Darkazanli’s ties to the future hijackers raised another red flag.
“In March 1999,” the Joint Inquiry’s report reads, “CIA received intelligence about a person named ‘Marwan’ who had been in contact with Zammar and Darkazanli. Marwan was described as a student who had spent time in Germany…” Only after the September 11 attacks did the CIA figure out that “Marwan” was Marwan al-Shehhi – one of the 9/11 hijackers.
This is likely just a sampling of what the FBI and the CIA knew about Darkazanli and Zammar prior to September 11. The Joint Inquiry’s report reads:
“CIA and FBI counterterrorism operations and investigations prior to September 11, 2001 repeatedly produced intelligence relating to two individuals in Hamburg, Germany – Mamoun Darkazanli, a suspected logistician in Bin Ladin’s network, and Mohammed Zammar, a suspected recruiter for al-Qa’ida.”