Said Bahaji. Images from the Interpol website.
The man at the heart of the plot to launch Mumbai-style attacks in Europe has ties to at least four members of al Qaeda’s infamous Hamburg terrorist cell.
Ahmad Siddiqui, who was captured in Afghanistan in July, has told his interrogators that he met with Said Bahaji after joining al Qaeda’s ranks in Pakistan, Der Spiegel reported on Saturday. Siddiqui also told interrogators that Osama bin Laden had ordered and financed the Mumbai-like terror plot in Europe.
Bahaji is wanted by Western authorities for his involvement in the 9/11 plot and has been on the lam for years. In October 2009, CNN reported that the Pakistani military had recovered a passport bearing Bahaji’s name and photo after taking control of a terror camp in the village of Sherwangi in South Waziristan. The passport contained a Pakistani visa showing that Bahaji “entered Pakistan on September 4, 2001.” Some members of the Hamburg cell fled Germany shortly before the 9/11 attacks in order to avoid arrest after the fact.
Today, Bahaji is both a senior propagandist within al Qaeda and also involved in the organization’s operations.
According to the 9/11 Commission, Bahaji and another member of the Hamburg cell, Mounir el Motassadeq, assisted the “core Hamburg cell members” by handling “their affairs” while they were in Afghanistan “so that their trip could be kept secret.” The core members included the suicide hijack pilots and Ramzi Binalshibh, who acted as an intermediary between the hijackers and al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan.
Bahaji was also the Internet guru for the Hamburg cell. An investigation of Bahaji’s laptop, which was confiscated by German authorities after the 9/11 attacks, showed that the hijackers used it to conduct research.
An earlier account by Der Spiegel noted that Siddiqui was close to Motassadeq’s family in Germany. Siddiqui regularly drove Mounir’s father for visits to the jail where Mounir is serving his 15-year prison sentence. Siddiqui “also went on vacation with Motassadeq’s family in Morocco” in 2002, and had “worked at the Hamburg airport,” just as Mounir did.
In addition to Bahaji and Motassadeq, Siddiqui reportedly has ties to two other Hamburg cell members. NPR reported earlier this week that Siddiqui “allegedly knew Mohamed Atta,” the lead hijacker for the 9/11 operation. This is certainly more than coincidence. Said Bahaji, whom Siddiqui met in Pakistan, attended to Atta’s affairs while he was in Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission found that Bahaji took care of Atta’s and Binalshibh’s “routine matters…thereby helping them remain abroad without drawing attention to their absence.”
Siddiqui attended the same mosque as the Hamburg cell. In August of this year, the Taiba mosque, which was formerly known as the Al Quds mosque, was closed down just weeks after Siddiqui was detained in Afghanistan. The imam of the Taiba mosque was a Syrian-German named Mamoun Darkazanli, who is a longtime al Qaeda operative and was closely affiliated with the Hamburg cell. [See LWJ report, Longtime al Qaeda operative runs mosque closed by German authorities.]
Although there are no reports of direct contact between Siddiqui and Darkazanli thus far, the two surely knew each other. Siddiqui attended Darkazanli’s mosque, which was long a hotbed for jihadist recruiting.
Based on what is known about Siddiqui’s activities, therefore, he has ties to at least four members of the Hamburg cell: Said Bahaji, Mounir el Motassadeq, Mohamed Atta, and Mamoun Darkazanli.