Syrian linked more closely to bin Laden aides

German-based wholesaler tied to personal secretary


A Syrian businessman in Germany who is under investigation for possible links to some of the Sept. 11 hijackers had closer ties to top aides of Osama bin Laden than was previously known, court records show.

The businessman, Mamoun Darkazanli, who sells wholesale appliances from his Hamburg apartment, was included on a list of 27 individuals and organizations whose assets were frozen by the Bush administration on grounds that they provided money to bin Laden's group, al-Qaida.

Darkazanli, who denies any role in terrorism, has said that he knew one of bin Laden's advisers and that he opened an account with him in Deutsche Bank in Hamburg in 1995.

But a review of records in New York also shows that two years later, another of bin Laden's closest aides listed Darkazanli's address in Hamburg on his business card as his own office.

The aide, Wadih el-Hage, a naturalized American citizen from Lebanon, served in the early 1990s as bin Laden's personal secretary, acting as a gatekeeper to his office in Sudan, the government said. Prosecutors said that Hage moved to Kenya in 1994 and set up businesses for bin Laden that were used as fronts for terrorist activities.

On his business card, Hage lists himself as director of a company called Anhar Trading, with addresses in Hamburg and Texas.

The Hamburg address - Uhlenhorster Weg 34 - is where Darkazanli lives today.

The business card and other personal documents were seized by the FBI in a 1997 raid on Hage's home in Nairobi and introduced by prosecutors in the embassy bombings trial in New York this year.

In another document, a personal address book, Hage also lists Darkazanli, his address and phone numbers, as well as another account in Deutsche Bank in Hamburg.

The address book and business card are the first concrete evidence publicly linking Darkazanli to Hage, who was convicted with three other men in a federal trial in Manhattan last spring of charges that they participated in a terrorism conspiracy to kill Americans, which included the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa.

The bank account number does not match the account Darkazanli opened with another bin Laden aide, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, at Deutsche Bank in Hamburg, suggesting there were two separate accounts in the bank.

Indications of a banking relationship between Darkazanli and two of bin Laden's lieutenants might be important because of suspicions that Darkazanli was supporting al-Qaida financially.

Investigators have been seeking to determine the role of bin Laden's followers in Germany in the attacks in New York and Washington.

German officials have said that the attacks were carried out by a cell in Hamburg, working in cooperation with other cells of operatives in several European countries. They said Friday that they had no doubt that the Hamburg cell was linked to bin Laden.

Darkazanli was briefly detained and questioned by the German police, who searched his apartment, but no arrest warrant has been issued for him.

Darkazanli has acknowledged casually knowing one of the suspected hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi, and attended the wedding of another man, Said Bahaji, who has been described by investigators as chief of logistics for the Hamburg cell, and who is being sought by the German police. Two of the suspects - Shehhi and Mohamed Atta - attended that wedding.

In interviews last month, Darkazanli denied to reporters that he was involved in terrorism. "This is a big misunderstanding," he told The Financial Times.

Attorneys for Hage, who faces sentencing, declined to comment when asked to describe his relationship with Darkazanli. Darkazanli did not return phone calls.

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