By: Derek Henry Flood Jamestown.org
Police in Hamburg shut down the notorious al-Quds mosque, renamed the Taiba mosque in 2008, led by German-Syrian national and voluntary imam Mamoun Darkazanli. Darkazanli (a.k.a. Abu Ilyas al-Suri) has been a suspected al-Qaeda operative, primarily as a financier and logistician, in the European Union for close to two decades. Long active in al-Qaeda circles, Darkazanli first surfaced on the radar of Western intelligence agencies when he purportedly helped procure a cargo ship named “Jennifer” for Osama bin Laden as early as 1993 (Hamburger Abendblatt, October 16, 2004). Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt (BKA- Federal Criminal Police Office) admitted that it had been tracking Darkazanli since 1996 when it first suspected his al-Qaeda linkages (Der Spiegel, October 29, 2001).
Darkazanli was born on August 4, 1958 in Syria and is a dual German-Syrian national according to a Red notice issued by Interpol.  His birth city is unclear. German media report him as being born in Damascus while the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control cites his birthplace as the northern city of Aleppo. He is generally believed to be or have been a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB), but that aspect of his life, like so many others, is also not clearly defined. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Brotherhood organized itself in vehement opposition to the Alawite regime of the late Ba’athist strongman Hafez al-Assad. The common narrative of Darkazanli’s life path paints a picture of a Muslim Brotherhood member on the run from Ba’athist repression following an assassination attempt on President al-Assad on June 25, 1980. A major crackdown on Syria’s Islamists ensued and Mamoun Darkazanli fled to Europe. Conflicting with this well-worn narrative are two media reports. In an interview with a pan-Arab daily shortly after 9/11, his sister, Samiyah, told a reporter that although Darkazanli was a devout Muslim, he was never a member of the SMB and that he never returned to Damascus after leaving for the West because of his record as a known Syrian military draft dodger and his fear of retribution should he return to the country (Al-Hayat, October 4, 2001). The second citation contradicting his alleged involvement in the SMB stems from an interview in the Spanish daily El Mundo with the SMB’s exiled London-based leader, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, who outright denied Darkazanli has ever held membership in his movement.
Darkazanli and Said Bahaji
Darkazanli’s mosque operated on the Steindamm in Hamburg’s workaday Sankt Georg (Saint George) neighborhood alongside sex shops and liquor stores and near the city’s central railway terminal on the second floor of building 103. The mosque and Darkazanli provided support to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell led by Mohammed Atta and had sustained Hamburg’s radicalizing Islamists until its closure in the early hours of Monday, August 9 (Der Spiegel, August 9).
Mamoun Darkazanli notoriously appeared in a wedding video filmed inside the al-Quds mosque for Said Bahaji, a key member of the Hamburg cell still at large. In October of 1999 Darkazanli and Bahaji celebrated his marriage to an 18-year old German woman of Turkish origin named Nese Kul alongside hijackers Marwan al-Shehi of the UAE and Lebanon’s Ziad Jarrah as well as 9/11 facilitator Ramzi bin al-Shibh of Yemen (Hannoversche Allgemeine, August 9). Bahaji, born to a Moroccan father and German mother in Lower Saxony, lived less than two kilometers from the core of the Hamburg cell in the borough of Harburg on the southern shore of the Elbe River. A reportedly close associate of Mamoun Darkazanli, Bahaji is currently believed to be along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after his passport was recovered last year by Pakistani troops from the wreckage of a mud brick compound in the village of Sherawangi following a Pakistani army assault on a Taliban-held area in South Waziristan (Dawn, October 30, 2009; Die Welt, October 31, 2009).
Darkazanli, a 52 year-old resident of the Hamburg’s Uhlenhorst district, has yet to be convicted of any offense in the EU and described his links with hijackers Atta and al-Shehi as “coincidences” (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, January 9). He is listed in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 as of 2007 as either residing or having his business registered at Uhlenhorster Weg 34, just two kilometers north of the al-Quds mosque. Resolution 1267 was adopted in the fall of 1999 by the Security Council to sanction designated members and supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taliban with the UN’s dismay at the then unyielding civil war in northern Afghanistan.
On July 15, Darkazanli’s company, Darkazanli Export-Import Sonderposten, initially designated as an al-Qaeda entity on October 6, 2001, was delisted as such an entity by the Security Council, though he still appears on the consolidated sanctions list as an individual affiliated with al-Qaeda.  The UN does not provide a specific explanation as to why Darkazanli’s company was taken off the sanctions list. It may no longer be an active business thereby becoming irrelevant to the list after a recent review.
Kingdom of Spain v. Darkazanli
Darkazanli was wanted by the famed Spanish anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzón and spent time in German custody in 2004-2005 but was never extradited to Madrid. Save for his nine months of temporary detention, Mamoun Darkazanli has been living in Germany relatively unhindered with all the rights of a German national. On July 14, 2006, the investigation into Darkazanli’s doings was dropped by German authorities, citing lack of evidence along with a potential violation of Germany’s federal constitution. When asked to comment on Judge Garzón’s issuance of the arrest warrant, Germany’s then Federal Prosecutor General Kay Nehm stated in an interview, “Different countries, different laws. The Spaniards have a different concept of terrorist organization than we [Germans]. You have to live with such differences in Europe” (Der Spiegel, May 16, 2006). Under the European Convention on Extradition signed in Paris in 1957, Article 6 1A, “A Contracting Party shall have the right to refuse extradition of its nationals.”  As such, Spain’s National High Court thus replied in kind in 2005 and said Spain would refuse extradition requests from the Federal Court of Justice of Germany in Karlsruhe (El Pais, September 21, 2005). Garzón sought Darkazanli in connection with the March 11, 2004 Atocha commuter train bombings which killed 191 and led in part to the withdrawal of the Spanish-led Plus Ultra brigade from Najaf, Iraq that April and the end of José María Aznar’s Prime Ministership. 
The fiasco over Mamoun Darkazanli pushed the issue of interoperability of justice within the supranational European Union to its limit. In Garzón’s warrant, he laid out Darkazanli’s long time contacts with al-Qaeda operatives in Spain, such as fellow Syrian Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas (a.k.a. Abu Dahdah), the leader of a Spanish terror cell, at whose home at Calle Pablo Neruda 85 in Madrid he frequently stayed (Focus [Munich], November 8, 2004). Darkazanli had known Yarkas for decades and the two lived together in Jordan for a time before settling in Germany and Spain, respectively. A German federal prosecutor stated that there was insufficient evidence upholding claims linking Darkazanli unequivocally to specific al-Qaeda attacks and that mere past associations with known members of the group was not sufficient under German law (Deutscher Depeschendienst, July 16, 2006). Unlike Darkazanli, his Syrian compatriot Yarkas is currently imprisoned in Spain, serving a 12-year sentence for his role in facilitating the planning of 9/11 (El Pais, February 7, 2006).
For Germany, guilt by association was not a convictable offense and Darkazanli has largely been a free man despite his clear connections to key members of the 9/11 operation. Until now, many German authorities appear to have preferred that the al-Quds mosque remain open and active because it simplified the monitoring of suspects, in that they all seemed to coalesce in one place in the city each week for Friday prayer led by Mamoun Darkazanli.
An uproar in the German media occurred in January when a Vanity Fair article described a previously secret program by the private security firm Xe Services LLC (then Blackwater USA) that was instructed to tail and possibly assassinate Darkazanli in Hamburg (Die Welt, January 4). Politicians and activists from the German left wasted no time in denouncing such an idea. Reports of the Blackwater plot inflamed German political discourse and reaffirmed existing anti-American sentiment and the notion that American agents trample on German sovereignty when it suits them, rather than evoke resentment of Mamoun Darkazanli’s presence there.
While German security services were well aware of Darkazanli’s activities and the hate speech being propagated at the al-Quds mosque prior to 9/11, they were hamstrung by strict German laws that prohibited interfering with the inner workings of religious groups stemming from the legacy of the Holocaust. The German position was only changed when 10 men, believed to be followers of Darkazanli, traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier in March 2009 to train at militant camps (AFP, August 9). Another Hamburger who reportedly frequented Darkazanli’s mosque, named Rami Makanesi, 25, was arrested in Pakistan while trying to enter Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa Province’s Bannu district from North Waziristan while disguised in a burqa (Hamburger Abendblatt, August 9; janashah.com, June 21).
The BKA has become increasingly concerned about “approximately 180 individuals with
ties to Germany” who the BKA believes have received militant training abroad. Out of
the BKA’s list of 180, it says approximately 80 have returned to Germany and out of
those 80, 15 were detained (Spiegel Online, September 29, 2009). It appears that German nationals turning up in or near Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the possibility that they could in turn bring terrorist activity back to German soil finally set the political-legal stage for the closure of the al-Quds/Taiba mosque and the Arab-German Cultural Association which administered it. The closure of the al-Quds mosque just shy of nine years after 9/11 may provide a renewed look into the doings of Mamoun Darkazanli, a man whose presence and freedom of movement in Hamburg has vexed American and Spanish officials for years.
1. To view Interpol’s Red notice on Mamoun Darkazanli, seewww.interpol.int/public/Data/Wanted/Notices/Data/2003/83/2003_41083.asp.
2. To view the UN Security Council press release, seewww.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/sc9983.doc.htm.
3 See the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Extradition online:conventions.coe.int/treaty/en/treaties/html/024.htm.
4. Baltasar Garzón has since been suspended from his bench following allegations of impropriety in his aggressive investigation of the Francisco Franco era (El Pais, May 14).