Help from an Unlikely Ally

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For six months, German investigators wondered how they had managed to lose track of a 300-lb. terror suspect. Mohammed Heidar Zammar, a Syrian-born German citizen, had been questioned and put under surveillance after 9/11 because of his close ties to Mohamed Atta and other hijackers. But the Germans didn't have enough evidence to arrest him, and when he arranged to travel to Morocco, officials gave him a temporary passport and let him go. Zammar left on Oct. 27--and vanished. The Germans had no idea where he was until last week, when they learned that Moroccan officials had arrested him and deported him to Syria. "I heard about it first by reading the newspaper," says an irked German official.

Some in the German government are accusing the U.S. of having one of their citizens taken for interrogation to a country where human rights don't count for much. In the war on terrorism, Syria — a notorious haven for terrorists — is the U.S.'s latest ally of convenience.


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Thanks to Syrian interrogators, American intelligence officials are learning more about al-Qaeda from Zammar. "He's like Abu Zubaydah," says a U.S. intelligence source. "He's kind of cooperating. Or he's cooperating without realizing that he's doing it." Zammar may also be revealing how Atta and his fellow Hamburg students were recruited. Zammar, who moved to Germany in 1971 at age 10, was well known in several Hamburg mosques where he advocated jihad. He claimed to have fought in Bosnia. Beginning in 1997, neighbors of Atta's would often see Zammar carrying boxes up to the Egyptian student's second-story walk-up. U.S. investigators believe he may have persuaded Atta's Islamic study group to offer its services to al-Qaeda around 1998.

U.S. officials tell TIME that no Americans are in the room with the Syrians who interrogate Zammar. U.S. officials in Damascus submit written questions to the Syrians, who relay Zammar's answers back. State Department officials like the arrangement because it insulates the U.S. government from any torture the Syrians may be applying to Zammar. And some State Department officials suspect that Zammar is being tortured.

That makes the Germans angry. "We are supposed to be sharing information with the Americans," says the German official. "Do they want to cooperate or not?" But American counterparts were angry at Germany for allowing several al-Qaeda suspects to flee in the weeks after 9/11. And some German officials concede they should have arrested Zammar last October.

Americans are still waiting for the arrest of Mamoun Darkazanli, another Syrian-born German and a friend of Zammar's, who has had financial connections to al-Qaeda. The U.S. has frozen his assets, and German investigators have him under surveillance. "You can imagine what my life is like," Darkazanli told TIME last month. "My name is known in the whole world. Every businessman is afraid to deal with me." Darkazanli should at least be grateful he isn't with his friend, in the hands of America's unlikely new ally.