MILAN, Italy — Police have linked a suspect in a recently dismantled Al Qaeda cell in Italy to the Hamburg terrorist group that plotted the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, according to Italian authorities.
As a result, Italian police are working with German and U.S. counterparts to follow the Sept. 11 leads and piece together a case that exemplifies the interconnected world of Al Qaeda.
In late March, police arrested six suspects in three Italian cities and charged them with recruiting Muslims for terrorist training camps in Iraq. Those camps, operated by Ansar al Islam, were cited by the United States as one of the reasons for going to war in Iraq. The camps were recently overrun by U.S. and Kurdish troops.
Last weekend, police arrested a seventh suspect in the Italian case, a Moroccan named Mohamed Daki. Detectives have determined that Daki once lived in Hamburg, where he was questioned by investigators after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because of his ties to the Hamburg cell, according to a judicial order obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Daki, 38, admitted he knew several Hamburg plotters, including Ramzi Binalshibh, the Yemeni being held in U.S. custody as a key planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the April 4 court document. Daki told Italian police he let Binalshibh use his address to register with German immigration authorities.
"In particular Mohamed Daki had strong ties to the notorious Ramzi Binalshib[h], an operational leader of Al Qaeda and planner of the Sept. 11 attacks," the judicial order stated.
Daki's passport contains a visa for the United States obtained in July 1999, when preparation for the Sept. 11 attacks had begun. It is not clear whether Daki traveled to the United States, Italian police said.
Although German police interrogated Daki on Sept. 30, 2001, they did not arrest him. Italian police are investigating him thoroughly because of his suspected contact with significant Al Qaeda figures involved in the Sept. 11 case and more recent plots, according to the indictment.
"He could lead to interesting things," an Italian law enforcement official said.
Daki moved from Hamburg to the Italian city of Reggio Emilia and resurfaced last month in phone calls intercepted by Italian anti-terrorism police conducting surveillance on Al Qaeda suspects in Milan, Parma and Cremona. The suspects allegedly enlisted Daki as a specialist in document forgery to help one of the members of their group, Cabdallah Ciise, a Somali who had arrived from London in search of fake papers, according to the court document.
It was the contact between Daki and Ciise that caused Italian police to abruptly wrap up their yearlong investigation of the network involved in recruitment for the terrorist camps in Kurd-controlled northern Iraq. Detectives were intrigued on March 23 when telephone intercepts caught suspected leaders in Syria, the network's hub for funds and recruits en route to Iraq, describing the Somali in respectful terms and telling associates in Milan to do all they could to help him, according to court documents.
Thinking that a big fish had washed into their net, Italian investigators consulted with U.S. intelligence agents about Ciise, according to authorities. The U.S. agents identified Ciise as a significant Al Qaeda financier who funded a terrorist cell that attacked Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya, in November.
The U.S. information described "the role played by Ciise in the raising and transfer of money from Great Britain and Somalia (via Dubai) for the Al Qaeda terrorist network," the court document stated. "The same information explains that these transactions were essential for an imminent attack against Western targets in Africa by a terror cell already under scrutiny in the investigation of the attack on the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa on Nov. 28, 2002."
The Mombasa car-bomb attack killed 12 people and wounded 80 others. It involved a Somali terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda. Two of the terrorists who died in the explosion have been identified as an Egyptian and a Somali, according to the documents.
Determined not to let Ciise get away, Italian police shadowed him aggressively from the moment he arrived in Milan by train March 24. His imperious behavior befitted his reputed rank in the organization, according to the documents. He snapped at the Milan operatives that they were "sleeping on the job." He complained during phone calls to Syria that the men in Milan were slow, disorganized and might be infiltrated by spies.
In response, a caller told him not to worry because the network had enlisted Mohamed Daki, a trusted "brother," to provide Ciise with fraudulent documents he needed urgently for himself and others, according to the judicial order.
"No fear. I want you to know that Daki is a specialist in these things," the caller told Ciise. "Be calm because he knows exactly where to prepare them."