The Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung has reported that Mohammed Haydar Zammar, one of the world’s worst people, is again a free man. “Kidnapped, arrested, exchanged” is how the paper describes what has happened recently as Zammar again walks freely thanks to Syrian jihadists.
A Syrian who moved to Hamburg with his family in 1971, at the age of ten, Zammar was an extremist already in his teens, and spent years in the German would-be jihadist scene. He did more than talk, however, accruing the standard Al-Qa’ida resume: in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in Bosnia in the 1990s, and again in Afghanistan in the 1990s, where he did graduate-level terrorist training and reportedly met with Osama bin Laden. There is no doubt about Zammar’s central role in Salafi jihadism in Germany by the late 1990s, and he was the main organizer of the notorious Hamburg Cell that played the preeminent role in what AQ termed the Planes Operation, which the rest of the world would come to know as the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Zammar claimed to have recruited Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 major domo, personally, as well as several other members of the “Magnificent Nineteen,” and he was a key player in the plot as it came together in Hamburg in the months and years leading up to its execution. In a typical case, Zammar was under German security surveillance for years, but nothing was done to actually stop the plot; similarly, U.S. intelligence had information about his nefarious activities that was not shared with German partners: in all, a typical pre-9/11 sad intel story of failed efforts, inadequate collaboration, and painful might-have-beens.
A few months after 9/11, Zammar was kidnapped by U.S. intelligence, with German assistance, and shipped to his native country. Although he protested he was being tortured by his Syrian captors, Zammar appeared fine, indeed “well manicured,” when he was interrogated by German spies in late 2002, who left with no doubts about his substantial role in the 9/11 attacks. Nothing, however, was done, since Zammar was safely in one of Assad’s prisons.
That was then. A dozen years later, Zammar is now a free man, having been released in a late 2013 prisoner-swap engineered by fellow Salafi jihadists. He is in war-torn Aleppo, where Süddeutsche Zeitung reports he is talking regularly with his wife and six children, who still reside in Germany. He may actually return to Germany, as the statue of limitations on charges of supporting a terrorist organization – ten years – has already passed. There may be nothing German authorities can do to prevent this evil man from returning to to live with his family, while collecting government benefits, in all likelihood.
Be sure to tell anyone affected by 9/11 about this case ….