LWJ’s prior warnings about 9/11 recruiter’s release

You can read our coverage of the reported release of Mohammed Zammar, an al Qaeda operative who recruited the 9/11 suicide hijack pilots, over at The Long War Journal. Multiple reports say that Zammar was released in exchange for Syrian army officers. John Rosenthal has an excellent write-up of Zammar’s release at Al-Monitor.

I warned that jihadists in Syria were seeking to free Zammar, on two occasions during congressional hearings last year.

On May 22, 2013, I testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. You can read my written testimony submitted for the hearing, which was titled “Assessing the Threat to the Homeland from al Qaeda Operations in Iran and Syria,” here. I briefly mentioned Zammar and the history of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in my written testimony, pointing out that a significant number of Syrian Muslim Brothers (including Zammar) went on to become key al Qaeda operatives.

I went further in my oral testimony: “[I would] take a keen interest in trying to find out, if I were sitting in your shoes, where he is today and if there’s any classified information which I’m not privy to about where he is and where he’s going because Zammar was directly involved in 9/11, he was imprisoned in Syria, and I would — I would take a deep concern about where he is today.”

Although I didn’t specifically say so during the May 2013 hearing, I had heard rumblings out of Syria that al Qaeda-linked factions were going to attempt a prisoner swap.

So, I warned about this again during a hearing on Sept. 10, 2013 before the full House Committee on Homeland Security. The hearing was titled, “Implications of Syria Situation for Homeland Security,” and you can read my testimony here. I wrote:

“We should wonder what happened to Mohammed Zammar, an al Qaeda recruiter who helped convince the 9/11 Hamburg cell to travel to Afghanistan for training. Zammar was once imprisoned by the Assad regime and may very well be free today.”

I didn’t know where Zammar was at the time, or if he was still imprisoned. But an account in the Syrian media on Sept. 26, 2013, just over two weeks after my testimony, indicated that Zammar was among the prisoners swapped for Syrian army officers.

As I warned, the jihadists were in fact trying to free Zammar.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • blert says:

    The bizarro tale of MH370 looks increasingly to be aligned with the “Breaking Down The Walls” campaign which has been under way since 2012 across the Ummah.
    Not only have the fanatics obtained Mohammed Zammar, but prison breaks have cut loose hundreds of others.
    There have been so many that I’ve lost track: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Israel, … One way or another, these fellows don’t stay in prison.
    It’s not unreasonable to surmise that jihadis seized MH370 with the intention of exchanging Chinese engineers for fellow fanatics. Doing so would replicate the motivations of the classic hijack of 1970 from which everything followed:
    The number one priority — even back then — was to get their fellows out of prison.
    Such a gambit might backfire with the tough fellows in Beijing. By now, even the Red Chinese realize that this hijacking was aimed at them.
    The Chinese authorities did put out tidbits after the Kunming railway station massacre, indicating that the Uyghurs involved had been previously frustrated in their attempts to travel to Kuala Lumpur. They couldn’t get past Chinese security, couldn’t leave the country. Someone assumed that these motivated Uyghur jihadis were up to no good.
    It may prove true that the railway crew was late for this in-flight piracy operation.
    What is increasingly clear is that flight MH370 did not have any technical fault. Indeed, the original point of departure seems to have been selected to occur exactly where flight control was to pass from Malaysia to Vietnam.
    Then someone with advanced knowledge step-wise turned off one emitter after another, making the aircraft ‘black’ to ground radar — well, to the extent possible.
    I’ve seen flight destination speculations ranging from Somalia to Iran to Pakistan to Kyrgyzstan. The sophistication involved makes one wonder about state sponsorship.
    I know I won’t be booking any flights through Kuala Lumpur any time soon.


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