WASHINGTON - A Syrian-born German national accused of helping to plan the September 11, 2001 attacks has been detained by US-allied forces in Syria, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday.

"We can confirm that Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national, was captured more than a month ago by SDF partners," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said in a statement, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

A senior Kurdish commander told AFP the previous day that Zammar had been detained "and is now being interrogated." Zammar, in his mid-fifties, has been accused of recruiting some of the September 11 Al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out attacks on Washington and New York, killing almost 3,000 people.

He was detained in Morocco in December 2001 in an operation involving CIA agents, and was handed over to the Syrian authorities two weeks later. A Syrian court sentenced Zammar to 12 years in prison in 2007 for belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, a charge that at the time could have resulted in the death penalty.  But conflict broke out in Syria four years later, and many hardline Islamist prisoners were released from jail or broke free and went on to join jihadist groups fighting in the war.

Al-Qaeda operated a branch in Syria known as Al-Nusra Front, but the affiliate has since claimed to have broken off ties. The Islamic State jihadist group also rose to power in the country's north and east, but a US-backed alliance has ousted it from swathes of its onetime "caliphate." The SDF, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters, has caught several foreign members of IS in Syria in recent months, particularly since it captured the northern city of Raqa from the jihadists. The Kurdish commander who spoke to AFP on Wednesday declined to say whether Zammar had been actively fighting as a member of an extremist group in Syria.

Judge blocks transfer of US

'enemy combatant' to Saudis

A Washington judge on Thursday blocked US officials in Iraq from handing over to Saudi Arabia a dual American-Saudi citizen accused of working with the Islamic State jihadist group.

In a test case of the Trump administration's policy on Americans who join and fight for jihadist groups, Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction blocking Defense Secretary Jim Mattis from transferring the unnamed detainee "from US custody," a court document said.

Dubbed "John Doe" in court documents, the man was detained in Syria last September and was turned over to the US military, who moved him to Iraq where he was interrogated by military and FBI officials. They branded him an "enemy combatant," but after seven months, have not charged him with any crime.

Chutkan's ruling protected the detainee from being moved to another country without being charged or tried. A transfer could have taken place within hours. Justice Department lawyers earlier Thursday indicated they would appeal a court order blocking the transfer. The case is the first of a US citizen detained and accused of joining IS. Scores of Americans traveled to Iraq and Syria after 2011 to enlist in the group and could pose legal challenges if caught as US and allied forces near elimination of the group on the battlefield. President Donald Trump has pledged to be tough on Americans who fight for jihadist groups.

But bringing them to trial in US courts could raise difficult issues, including the unresolved question of whether the US military had the legal authority to detain IS fighters. US, European and other countries are wrestling with how to deal with hundreds of "foreign fighters" now held in Iraq and Syria after the self-proclaimed IS caliphate collapsed.

On Monday the Justice Department gave a required 72 hour notice saying they planned to send "John Doe" to a third country, which has agreed to accept him. Though the country has not been officially identified, multiple court document references point to Saudi Arabia, and lawyers have not disputed media reports naming the country.

The Justice Department lawyers said that sending him to the third country was an issue of maintaining strong relations with a US ally. But they could not discuss, at least publicly, what would happen to him once he was transferred. The man has not been charged with a crime in Saudi Arabia, and the United States does not have an extradition treaty with the country, which has imprisoned numerous people with alleged ties to radical jihadists.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the man, asked the court Wednesday to block the transfer, and demanded that he be charged under US law or freed. "Forcibly rendering him to another country would be an unconscionable violation of his constitutional rights," said ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz.

 

Liberia ex-warlord 'Jungle Jabbah' jailed for 30 years in US

A Liberian former warlord whose forces committed atrocities including murders and cannibalism during the country's civil war was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in US prison -- for immigration-related fraud and perjury.

Nicknamed "Jungle Jabbah," 51-year-old Mohammed Jabateh commanded the "United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy" (ULIMO) and later ULIMO-K rebel groups, which engaged in killings, rapes, multilation and cannibalism during Liberia's 1989-2003 civil war, according to prosecutors. Jabateh was arrested in March 2016.

It is not the atrocities that will send the former warlord to prison, but rather lying about his past to American authorities as part of his 1998 asylum application and his subsequent bid for permanent residency, which saw him convicted in October of "two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury."

Prosecutors did, however, summon 17 Liberians to testify during the trial about the actions of Jabateh and his men, which allegedly included killing a village leader and bringing his heart to his wife with orders for her to cook it for them. "This defendant committed acts of such violence and depravity that they are almost beyond belief," US Attorney William McSwain said in a statement.

"This man is responsible for atrocities that will ripple for generations in Liberia. He thought he could hide here but thanks to the determination and creativity of our prosecutors and investigators, he couldn't," McSwain said.