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Respekt in English

Atta's Trip to Prague

The report by the U.S. Inspector General of the Justice Department, Glenn A. Fine, reads: "Egyptian terrorist Muhammad Atta most likely did not meet in Prague in April of last year with an Iraqi spy Ahmed al-Ani operating in the Czech capital under the diplomatic protection."

The report by the U.S. Inspector General of the Justice Department, Glenn A. Fine, reads: „Egyptian terrorist Muhammad Atta most likely did not meet in Prague in April of last year with an Iraqi spy Ahmed al-Ani operating in the Czech capital under the diplomatic protection.“ The American government official has thus cast doubt upon serious suspicions that Iraq had a hand in last year's terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The Bonn Code Evidence

Czech news services as well as Interior Minister Stanislav Gross stand behind their statements. They claim that Atta and al-Ani most likely did meet in the Czech Republic in April of last year.

Police, investigators and the secret service of several countries have been intensively trying to check trips, telephone calls, documents and contacts of Muhammad Atta and other terrorists. But they prove very little about his final years. The police have a more precise picture of Atta's activities but nonetheless there remain a number of blank spots in his life and in his sojourns in Europe.

An airline ticket from Lufthansa confirms one thing for sure: Atta visited the Czech Republic for the first time on May 30, 2000. It was an odd visit. According to a document made available to Respekt (A-visa R1, Code: BONN200005260024), Atta had applied for a Czech visa four days before and hadn't yet been issued one by the time of his departure. Nonetheless Atta got on a plane in Hamburg and flew to Prague. Naturally he was not permitted to leave the airport and after several hours got on a return flight. There is no evidence as to what Atta did at the international airport, whether he met with anyone, for instance. The next day after returning to Germany Atta picked up his visa in Bonn and on June 2nd he arrived in Prague by morning bus from Frankfurt. He spent twenty-four hours in the Czech capital and then flew with Czech Airlines to Newark Airport in New Jersey. Neither the police nor counter intelligence has been able to map out these twenty-four hours. Representatives of the Security Information Service (BIS) and counter intelligence concur: „Whoever was interested in Atta at that time did not go through any of our records.“

Glenn A. Fine has a possible explanation for Atta's trip via Prague: he wanted to save money on airfare, which was almost half as cheap from Prague as from Frankfurt. But not even the American inspector explains in his report why Atta came to Prague two days beforehand when he was sure that he wouldn't be allowed through passport control. He certainly did not save money that way. Nor does Fine comment to the question of where Atta disappeared twenty-four hours prior to his departure for the U.S. Police have found no record that he stayed in any Czech hotel or pension. „It cannot be ruled out that he stayed at an acquaintance's and that he met with al-Ani at that time,“ says one BIS officer. Even Glenn Fine concedes this version. Czech police tried to check whether Atta stayed at a hotel under a false name but discovered nothing. „Atta never used false identification on any of his provable trips,“ claims Glenn Fine. At the same time that is one of the main reasons Atta could not have visited Prague on the eight of April, when he was supposed to have met with al-Ani.

Atta on Closed-Circuit Camera

BIS has two pieces of information about Atta's alleged stay in Prague in April of last year, both of which were obtained by a one secret service agent. An informant from the Prague Arab community allegedly saw Atta and al-Ani meet twice: once near the Radio Free Europe building at the top of Wenceslaus Square, and the second time at dinner in a hotel not far from Prague. „Neither of these pieces of information are one-hundred percent sure. They cannot be verified,“ says the man from the intelligence unit.

The meeting in front of the Radio Free Europe building should have been captured by the closed-circuit camera monitoring the vicinity of the building. Al-Ani can be clearly seen in the shot, but the picture is not well enough focused to absolutely confirm that the second man is Atta. Al-Ani knew people at Radio Free Europe. He often moved around the building and even photographed it. Identifying him was easy. In fact it was al-Ani's constant photographing of Radio Free Europe that proved fateful to him. On April 22, 2001, fourteen days after his alleged meeting with Atta, he was expelled from the country and the information about his photographing the building evidently became the foundation of Zeman's alarming reports last year that Atta was preparing an attack on Prague's Radio Free Europe building.

In spring of this year Respekt obtained information from news circles about the second, dinnertime meeting saying that it took place at Hotel Sen not far from Benešov. Except that according to the hotel's manager, Bohuslav Šerák, the entire hotel that day was being used for a private event and it eliminates the possibility that Atta and al-Ani could have taken part in it. News services might intentionally misinform nosy reporters but in this case it was quite unprofessional. On the one hand the report about Hotel Sen can be easily verified, on the other hand another source from BIS claims that a meeting really did take place near Prague and the credibility of the agents' words can be confirmed by details, such as what the two had for dinner. According to German investigators, however, the agent could have been describing a meeting of any two Arabs. There is no proof available that it was really Atta.

According to Fine, who investigated the terrorists' stay in America day by day, it can be proved that Atta left the United States only twice in 2001. The first time was on January 4, when he flew to Madrid and after staying six days in Spain he returned (see frame). The second time was on July 7, when he flew to Zurich in order not to violate American immigration laws, because his official residence permit was about to expire. A week after his return from Zurich, American officials extended his visa till mid-November.

Atta was living in Florida at the time when he was to have visited Prague. Two days before a possible meeting with al-Ani he flew from Virginia Beach, Florida to New York, but seventy- two hours later he was back in Florida. Czech officials checked out all suspicious men who arrived in Prague on the incriminating days, but were not able to confirmed Atta's visit. Nonetheless a visit was possible. Atta, say, could have flown to Vienna and taken a bus to Prague. „Atta's mysterious stay in Prague can neither be ruled out nor confirmed. We're at the same place we were a year ago,“ says one reporter occupied on the case. One interesting piece of evidence is the report by the New York Times stating that a few days after the alleged visit to Prague last year one hundred thousand dollars was transferred to Atta's bank account at Sun Bank in Florida from the United Arab Emirates.

Shehhi Might Have Been in Prague Because of the money sent to Atta's Florida account, Glenn A. Fine does not rule out the possibility that one of the terrorists met with al-Ani in Prague in April of last year. Marwan al-Shehhi flew on April 18, 2001 from New York to Amsterdam and did not return to the U.S. until early May. Nevertheless there is minimal information about his stay in Holland, because with the exception of the first night he did not stay at hotels. Fine suggests that al-Shehhi might have flown to Prague to see al-Ani. However, there is even less proof for this alternative than for the meeting of al-Ani and Atta.

Al Qaeda in Spain

According to information which Glenn A. Fine also concedes in his report, Muhammad Atta made two trips last year to Spain. The first trip was in January but only very little is known about his stay at that time. He had accommodations in the center of Madrid and he may have met with a forty-one year old Syrian there named Haydar Zammar, who allegedly persuaded Atta towards the path of terrorism in 1997 in Hamburg (according to another version, Atta was enlisted on a visit to Syria in 1994). Today Zammar is also being investigated in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Atta's second trip to Spain was in mid-July 2001. He flew from Switzerland and is thought to have met in the town of Tarragona with Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who arranged apartments for Atta's group and apparently false passports as well, and Marwan Shihdi, the likely pilot of the second airplane to hit the tower of the World Trade Center. In July of this year Spanish police arrested four men from Al-Qaeda who had been living in Madrid and Castellón. Two videocassettes were found among the men that showed New York's Twin Towers in detail, including the basement and foundation pillars. According to Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón all four men took part directly in the preparation of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Two of them went through training in Afghan camps, one of them in late-1999, when Muhammad Atta was also being trained near Kabul. No link has yet been established between the Spanish cell of Al-Qaeda and Iraq. After returning from Spain in January of this year Atta had an expired visa, according to the New York Times. Despite this American officials allowed him into the country.

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