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Posted 10/16/2004 12:44 PM     Updated 10/16/2004 12:51 PM
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Germany nabs suspected al-Qaeda financier
BERLIN (AP) — Authorities on Friday arrested a Syrian-German businessman wanted by Spain on charges he helped fund the al-Qaeda terrorist network for years and who is seen in a video at a mosque with some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, German officials said.

Mamoun Darkazanli, 46, was taken into custody in Hamburg on a Spanish warrant and is being held for possible extradition, city judicial spokeswoman Sabine Westphalen told The Associated Press.

German police questioned Darkazanli shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States once it emerged that three of the suicide hijackers lived and studied in Hamburg. He was freed for lack of evidence and continued to live in the port city.

The Bush administration has labeled his Hamburg-based trading company a front for terrorism. Darkazanli was one of the first people to appear on U.S. suspect lists after Sept. 11, but has denied any links to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or the attacks.

Spanish authorities allege that Darkazanli was "one of the key figures of the al-Qaeda terror network" and "the permanent contact person and assistant of Osama bin Laden in Germany," Hamburg authorities said in a statement.

He is accused of having given logistical and financial support to the network in Spain, Germany and Britain since 1997, the statement said.

The U.S. Treasury Department ordered a freeze of his personal assets and those held by his import-export company. German officials followed suit and placed him under formal inquiry, but until now refrained from arresting him.

He first caught the attention of German investigators in 1998 when they learned he had power of attorney over a German bank account opened by bin Laden's suspected financial chief, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. Darkazanli said his dealings with Salim were a one-time business deal in the mid-1990s that fell through.

Darkazanli, a Syrian native, faces up to 12 years in prison in Spain if convicted of charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

German authorities arrested him because he was a flight risk, the statement said. It did not elaborate.

Darkazanli did not respond to the charges after his arrest, but said he would contest extradition, the statement said.

Darkazanli is alleged to have been involved in the purchase of a ship for bin Laden, handling administrative details, and paying bills. He also allegedly traveled to Kosovo in late 2000 on an al-Qaeda mission, Hamburg authorities said.

A Spanish Interior Ministry spokeswoman stressed that he is not linked to the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, but is known to have belonged to a Spanish al-Qaeda cell.

He is among 41 suspects — including bin Laden himself — who have been indicted by Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge investigating al-Qaeda. Darkazanli was indicted in Sept. 2003 with 34 others. The last six have been indicted over the last year.

He made several visits to Spain in the late 1990s and had connections with suspected members of the cell, including the leader, a Syrian national called Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, according to the indictment.

Darkazanli was among several people identified in a wedding video shot in a Hamburg mosque that was believed to have been a recruiting center for al-Qaeda operatives. The video of the October 1999 wedding of Said Bahaji shows grainy scenes of Sept. 11 al-Qaeda suicide pilots celebrating.

Visible in the video were Mohamed Atta, believed to have piloted one of the Sept. 11 jets into the north tower of the World Trade Center; Marwan al-Shehhi, the suspected pilot of the jet that hit the south tower; and Ziad Jarrah, the suspected pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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