Critics demand Berlin respond to terror claims
25 November 2005, BERLIN - Parliamentarians demanded Thursday that Berlin explain reports of German police interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist three years ago inside one of Damascus's most dreaded jails.
25 November 2005
BERLIN - Parliamentarians demanded Thursday that Berlin explain reports of German police interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist three years ago inside one of Damascus's most dreaded jails.
So far Berlin has not responded to the news story, which appeared at the start of the week in the weekly Der Spiegel, just after alarm had spread in Europe at reports that U.S. secret agents were moving terrorism suspects via European airfields.
Der Spiegel has reported Germany reached a secret and short-lived deal with Syria to send police to question the suspect.
They were able to speak in 2002 with Mohammed Haidar Zammar, a Syrian who is believed to have a German passport, after he had been captured by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents in Morocco and removed to Syria, Spiegel said.
In exchange, intelligence officials in then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office acceded to Syrian demands to quash the indictment of two suspected Syrian spies. Berlin later accused Syria of reneging and of continuing espionage in Germany in breach of the deal.
Zammar was believed to have been al-Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden's representative in the German port city of Hamburg and a close friend of three Hamburg Arab students who piloted hijacked jets in the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Captured at the end of 2001, Zammar had been held in the brutal Far Filastin Jail, a facility in the basement of the Syrian military intelligence headquarters in Damascus, the magazine said. Amnesty International says torture takes place routinely there.
"I expect (the government) to explain itself about such activities," said Dieter Wiefelspuetz, the Social Democrat caucus spokesman on interior issues, in an interview with Spiegel Online. He said Germany could only fight terrorism within the law.
Gisela Piltz of the opposition Free Democrats said, "I wouldn't be surprised if I read this in a novel, but it does surprise me in connection with lawful institutions."
Hans-Christian Stroebele of the opposition Greens said the interrogation was evidently the outcome of a "dirty deal". He said such actions were incompatible with the rule of law and human rights.
Amnesty International demanded the government explain.
Ruth Juettner of Amnesty said: "If this is true, German police have interviewed a German prisoner in a country that is known to use torture during interrogation and have not sought due process (for him). That is a scandal.
"The police must have known that Zammar had been kidnapped in breach of international law, was being held in a secret location and was very probably being tortured."
She said the police could be accused of failing to help a citizen or of complicity with the Syrian authorities.
Spiegel said German federal police and domestic and foreign intelligence officers travelled to Damascus and were told by Zammar that his main contribution had been to convince one of the pilots, Marwan al-Shehhi, to join the "jihad" cause.
He had also arranged for Murat Kurnaz, a man from the German port city of Bremen who has been in the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention camp since 2002, to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taleban.
Spiegel said the interview findings had been kept top secret and had not been shared with prosecutors investigating Islamists in Germany.
Prosecutors had withdrawn the indictments of the two alleged Syrian agents on instructions from the German federal justice ministry, but a second German visit to Damascus never took place because the Syrians had broken the bargain.
Subject: German news