Al-Qaeda Financier Remains a Free Man in Germany

Last month, the Domestic Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag announced that it will hold inquiries into an alleged CIA plan to kill Mamoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian resident of Hamburg. The German federal prosecutor’s office is reportedly likewise considering opening an investigation into the matter.

The moves were prompted by a Vanity Fair profile of Erik Prince, the founder and chairman of the private military contractor Blackwater. It is mentioned in passing in the article that the company, at one point, received a commission from the CIA to track Darkazanli and possibly to kill him. The supposed plan, however, was never carried out due to a “lack of political will.” “Frankly, I’m speechless,” Darkazanli told the popular German tabloid Bild. “That’s a contract for murder.”

There are numerous reasons to treat the report with caution: among others, the fact that the only source given for it is anonymous. Nonetheless, when the story first began making the rounds in early January, politicians from all of Germany’s major political parties reacted with outrage. Since, however, there is nothing to discuss but an unsubstantiated claim, the Bundestag’s inquiries can be expected to end quickly and without any notable result.

What might prove more fruitful would be to devote hearings to the supposedly intended “victim” in the affair. For, as the Chicago Tribune put it in an October 5, 2003, report, the list of those with whom the Hamburg-based businessman has had financial ties reads like a veritable "Who’s Who of al-Qaeda."

According to the report, Darkazanli first came to the attention of American intelligence services in 1998 at the latest. At the time, he was an associate of Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, the jihadist financier and alleged al-Qaeda co-founder. Salim has been charged as a co-conspirator in the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He is presently serving a 32-year prison sentence in a Colorado maximum security prison for a vicious attack on a New York prison guard that cost the victim an eye and left him brain-damaged.

Salim had Darkazanli’s phone number saved in his cell phone and he is supposed to have visited him frequently in Germany. Starting in 1995, moreover, Darkazanli had power of attorney over Salim’s bank account at a branch of the Deutsche Bank in Hamburg. As reported by the German weekly Focus in October 2001, Darkazanli claims that the account was set up to purchase antennas for a radio station in the Sudan, but that the business never got off the ground. As reported in the British press, Darkazanli’s personal details were also found in a diary connected to Rangzieb Ahmed, a UK-based Qaeda-operative who in December 2008 was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in planning terror attacks.

As noted in a December 27, 2001, article in the New York Times, in the 1990s Darkazanli and the since convicted Qaeda co-conspirator Wadih El-Hage purchased a ship on behalf of Osama bin Laden. Is it a mere coincidence that the ship in question docked in the Saudi harbor of Jidda in late October 1995 and then set sail again merely one day before the November 13, 1995, attack on an American-operated military training center in the Saudi capital of Riyadh? Five Americans were killed in the attack.

In October 1999, Said Bahaji got married at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg. Bahaji was a roommate of Mohammed Atta and he is suspected of having provided logistical support to the Hamburg terror cell. The entire Hamburg al-Qaeda scene appears to have turned out for the wedding, including Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Mounir al-Motassadeq. Darkazanli was Bahaji’s best man. Mohammed Fizazi was an imam at the mosque, where he preached, among other things, about how “the Jews and crusaders must have their throats slit” (source: Washington Post, September 11, 2002). Fizazi is reported to have had contacts with the perpetrators of both the Madrid and Casablanca bombings, as well as the 9/11 hijackers (source: Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2005).

In late August 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, Darkazanli was in contact with Barakat Yarkas, the then head of a Spanish al-Qaeda cell. As reported in a March 23, 2003, article in the German daily Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, the two men could be heard in a tapped telephone conversation seemingly discussing men’s clothing imports. There are “English men’s sweaters” available on the black market, Yarkas told Darkazanli, and the “prices [are] very cheap.” Investigators speculate that the two men were speaking in code and that the real topic of the conversation was the acquisition of fake identity papers. Yarkas, who is presently serving a prison term in Spain, is reported to have met with Darkazanli on several occasions.

Mohammed Zouaydi was also active in Spain at the time. Zouaydi is the former accountant of the Saudi royal family and a reputed al-Qaeda financier. In an April 25, 2002, article, the German daily Die Welt reported on Zouaydi and his ties to Mamoun Darkazanli:

By way of various construction firms, Zouaydi is supposed to have financed terror commandos around the world. The Syrian-born Spanish citizen is said to have transferred no less than €667,000 to cells in the USA, Great Britain, Belgium, Yemen and Australia, among other places. €180,000 went to Mamoun Darkazanli (“Abu Ilias”), who was in charge of Mohammed Atta and his 9/11 suicide pilots. In addition to Atta, Darkazanli is said also to have recruited the logistics chief Ramzi Binalshibh. ...

Darkazanli has admitted to receiving merely $9,000 from Zouaydi. According to Darkazanli, he was supposed to use the money to purchase a used car and send it to Zouaydi in Spain, but he failed to find a suitable vehicle (source: Chicago Tribune, October 18, 2003). It is said that German investigators had some doubts about whether a millionaire like Zouaydi had need of a used car.

In a December 2002 report that he prepared for the UN Security Council, terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard writes: “Money was funneled to the Hamburg cell through the Saudi Al Rahji bank to the businessmen Mahmoud Darkazanli and Abdul Fattah Zammar who provided the cell of hijackers with financial and logistical support.” In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush ordered the freezing of the assets of 27 firms and persons suspected of financing terror: among them, Mamoun Darkazanli. On the website of Interpol, one can easily find the “wanted” notice under which, pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution, Mamoun Darkazanli is sought around the world.

Everywhere, that is, but in the country in which he lives: Germany. German authorities have never brought charges against Darkazanli and have no plans to do so, and since he is a German citizen, they likewise refuse to extradite him to face justice in any other country.

It should be noted that Darkazanli’s prospects of escaping justice did not always look so bright. Having identified him as a key figure in the European al-Qaeda network, the Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzón indicted Darkazanli as part of the same Spanish al-Qaeda indictment in which Yarkas was charged. In October 2004, Garzón submitted a request to have Darkazanli extradited to Spain. The legal basis for the request was the “European arrest warrant,” which came into force two months earlier and under the terms of which Germany was supposed to turn over its citizens to face prosecution in EU partner countries.

Darkazanli was arrested. But just an hour before he was scheduled to be flown to Spain, Germany’s Constitutional Court ordered the extradition stopped. The court would later find the German legislation implementing the EU arrest warrant to be unconstitutional and require it to be rewritten.

In the meanwhile, Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office opened its own investigation into Darkazanli’s activities. But this investigation was closed down on July 14, 2006. The prosecutor’s office found that Darkazanli had indeed served “as a contact of various al-Qaeda leaders between 1993 and 1998” and, furthermore, that he had been involved “as mediator, custodian and manager in the international business activities of the al-Qaeda firm’s network.” It concluded, nonetheless, that these “activities that benefited the al-Qaeda organization” did not meet the conditions for prosecution under paragraph 129a of Germany’s criminal code and, furthermore, that “to the degree that he was active on behalf of al-Qaeda, the transactions that he conducted were without criminal relevance.”

Paragraph 129a makes it a crime to form part of a terrorist organization. Following the 9/11 attacks, a new paragraph, 129b, was added to the German criminal code that likewise makes it a crime to form part of a “foreign terrorist organization.” The prosecutor’s office found that Darkazanli’s financial activities on behalf of al-Qaeda did not constitute a punishable offense under §129b, since the law only came into force in August 2002.

Since, as a result of this legal lacuna, Darkazanli could not be prosecuted in Germany, the Spanish judiciary again filed a request for his extradition. Now, however, the German executive branch sprung into action. In April 2007,  then German Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries refused the Spanish request, arguing that the German public prosecutor’s decision not to press charges against Darkazanli constituted an “unavoidable obstacle” to his extradition (source: Focus, April 30, 2007). In other words, the legal lacuna that prevented a German prosecution also protected Darkazanli from the Spanish courts.

The terrorism expert Victor Comras regards Darkazanli as a key figure in the “financial network established to support al Qaeda.” Comras has been investigating terrorist financing for decades and he was appointed by the UN secretary general to monitor the implementation of UN Security Council sanctions against al-Qaeda. Asked for comment for the present article, Comras said:

Mr. Darkazanli has been implicated directly in financing al-Qaeda terrorism and has been designated by the United States and the United Nation’s 1267 Committee. He was (and perhaps continues to be) actively involved in acquiring and channeling funds to Al Qaeda and like-minded groups.

“The refusal of German authorities to extradite Darkazanli to Spain,” he added, “is indicative of the continuing shortcomings in carrying out European conventions and other agreements and arrangements calling for close cooperation in dealing with such individuals and entities.”

And what does Darkazanli himself say? He has described the Spanish investigations into his activities as “a big show, just because I had a cup of coffee with a friend” (source: Focus, April 30, 2007). Nowadays, he appears to have plenty of time to visit Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque, where he also serves as a prayer leader. Most of his previous business associates, after all, are in prison. Why has Darkazanli had more luck than they have? “Of course I know that I am being investigated,” he told a reporter from the New York Times in June 2002, “but, thank God, by German authorities.”

The above article is adapted from an article that first appeared in German on the Lizas Welt blog here. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.