Al Qaeda sent secret message to Afghanistan before 9/11
BERLIN: An Al Qaeda courier was sent to Afghanistan just before the Sept 11 attacks to convey the message “Eleven Nine”, but did not know the significance of the numbers and was not part of the plot, a central figure in the conspiracy told US interrogators.
The assertion was made by captured Al Qaeda figure Ramzi bin al-Shaibah and is contained in documents, obtained by Reuters, which were sent by the United States to Germany this month.
The story's credibility will be tested next Tuesday when the documents are presented to a Hamburg court trying another Sept 11 suspect, Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq.
In the papers, sent by the US Department of Justice and obtained by Reuters, bin al-Shaibah is quoted as saying another Hamburg-based Moroccan, Zakariya Essabar, was sent to Afghanistan as an unwitting messenger to tell Al Qaeda leaders when the attacks on the United States would take place.
Essabar, a Moroccan who like the others was based in Hamburg, was to deliver the message to a contact called Mukhtar.
Bin al-Shaibah "asked Essabar to convey the message Eleven Nine to Mukhtar, but insisted that he did not tell Essabar what the message meant", the documents say.
At another point in his questioning, bin al-Shaibah "described Zakariya Essabar as a close associate, quickly adding that Essabar did not have any foreknowledge of the events of 11 September", they say.
But at yet another time, Bin al-Shaibah -- in jail at an undisclosed location -- described how an aide to Osama bin Laden "instructed Essabar to return (from Afghanistan) to Germany and to obtain a US visa so that Essabar could travel to the United States to take part in the planned attacks". Neither bin al-Shaibah nor Essabar was granted a US visa.
Washington declined on security grounds to grant the German court access to bin al-Shaibah.
But the written summaries of his interrogation are crucial to the Hamburg case in which Motassadeq is on trial for the second time, accused of complicity in the attacks on New York and Washington which killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001.
In material previously released by U.S. authorities to the court, bin al-Shaibah was quoted as saying that Motassadeq had nothing to do with the plot.
He was merely one of a group of Arabs who "studied jihad" and "engaged in vitriolic anti-US discussions" at the Hamburg home of Mohamed Atta, the man who crashed the first hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.
The prosecution is likely to seize on the contradictions in the new information to argue that bin al-Shaibah was lying about both Essabar and Motassadeq and simply trying to cover up for his friends.
The US letter notes bin al-Shaibah's "inconsistent statements" on Essabar. It also says he "may have been intentionally withholding information and employing counter- interrogation techniques".
On the other hand, the new US material, consisting of summarised information from bin al-Shaibah and another captured Al Qaeda suspect, mentions Motassadeq only once by name and does not contain any new incriminatory evidence against him. reuters