BERLIN (AP) — German authorities are looking into allegations raised in an American magazine that a CIA hit team targeted an al-Qaida suspect in Hamburg in a post-Sept. 11 operation that was never carried out, officials said Wednesday.
According to the report in Vanity Fair’s January issue, the team was sent to target Mahmoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian businessman. Darkazanli has been accused in Spain of being an al-Qaida figure and was close to the Sept. 11 hijackers who lived and studied in Hamburg.
The article focused on Erik Prince, who founded the defense contractor Blackwater USA, and alleged that Prince had a hand in training the team. It said the team notified neither the German government nor the Hamburg CIA station that it was working in the city, and followed Darkazanli for weeks before the assassination was called off.
George Little, a spokesman for the CIA based in Virginia, declined to comment on the case.
Though the magazine hit newsstands at the start of December, Hamburg prosecutors decided Monday to look into it after a local newspaper picked up on the allegations, said spokesman Wilhelm Moellers.
”It is just a general assessment,” he said. ”We’re talking about newspaper reports at the moment — we are not conducting any sort of an investigation into known or unknown suspects.”
He added that, even if the story proves to be true, prosecutors will still have to evaluate whether any crime was committed.
In comments on Germany’s ARD television Tuesday night, Darkazanli said he was ”speechless” at allegations there was a contract out on him, but said he often noticed surveillance.
Darkazanli was questioned by German police shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States after it emerged that he moved in some of the same circles as the hijackers.
Among other things, he appeared in a 1999 wedding video with two of the three suicide pilots who lived and studied in Hamburg.
He appeared on U.S. suspect lists after Sept. 11, but denied any links to Osama bin Laden or the attacks. He was never charged in Germany.
In October 2004, he was arrested in Hamburg on a Spanish warrant accusing him of involvement with al-Qaida.
German authorities said then that Spanish authorities alleged he was ”one of the key figures of the al-Qaida terror network” and ”the permanent contact person and assistant of Osama bin Laden in Germany,” as well as a bin Laden financier.
His extradition was blocked by Germany’s high court and he was eventually released. In 2006, German prosecutors closed their own investigation of him, saying there was insufficient evidence to show that Darkazanli supported al-Qaida.
However, he remains under observation by the Hamburg office of the German intelligence agency that tracks extremists, deputy head Manfred Murck told The AP.
Murck said there is a group of about 150 Islamic extremists in Hamburg that his office keeps tabs on.
”We try to keep an eye on the scene, and Darkazanli still is in it,” he said.
He said that in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks — with much of the initial investigation focused on Hamburg — his office shared information with the CIA regularly, including on Darkazanli, ”but he did not play a big role.”
Murck said his office has no knowledge of any hit operation.
”The question for us is did it really happen? We don’t know. Of course we would be interested ourselves,” he said.