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Hamburg looks back a decade after 9/11

Hannah Cleaver · 9 Sep 2011, 10:41

Published: 09 Sep 2011 10:41 GMT+02:00

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Just a few days after September 11, 2001, with the fallen twin towers still smouldering and the world in turmoil, a group of people gathered on an unremarkable street in Hamburg, looking up at a first-floor window.

The building at Marienstrasse 54 had by then become the notorious terrorists’ nest – the place where Islamic extremists supposedly had planned the worst terror attacks the world had ever seen. Neighbours were horrified to discover that the 58-square-metre flat had been home to Mohammed Atta, who piloted a plane into the World Trade Center, and his co-conspirators.

Manfred Murck at the time was deputy director in charge of extremism at Hamburg’s branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution – Germany’s domestic intelligence service. He was actually in hospital on September 11 after having an operation on his knee.

By the time he had recovered enough to call the office, it was frantic – information had emerged that some of the hijackers had lived in his city and the operation was underway to work out what had been known – and to try to sweep up any supporters still in Hamburg.

Now director of the office, Murck told The Local that the disparate group of young men who were to form the core of the terror attack – three of the hijack pilots, Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al Shehhi, as well as some of the more important organisers – undeniably become acquainted and radicalised in Hamburg.

Plans were made in Afghanistan

But he said the plan to fly planes into buildings was not formed in Germany – that came from senior al-Qaida members in Afghanistan.

“They were Muslims in the Diaspora who found each other at university or at a mosque and developed their world view together. And then as a group at some point radicalised, in Hamburg, to such a point that they decided to take part in Jihad themselves," Murck told The Local.

"Then they decided to do something, maybe even become suicide bombers. That was the part which took place in Hamburg.”

They left for training camps in Afghanistan in late 1999 – having talked of preparing to fight the Russians in Chechnya – and were recruited by al-Qaida.

The US Congress’ Commission on 9/11 concluded that al-Qaida leaders including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been planning to use hijacked planes as weapons for a considerable time. The Islamists quickly scooped up Atta and the others as suitable operatives who could work effectively in the United States without major language or social problems.

"When then in the spring of 2000 they came back to Hamburg it was clear to them that basically they would carry out the attack with planes,” said Murck.

“But they were not in Hamburg for long after that. They went to the USA in order to train and prepare. They were hardly here once the plan had been decided upon and given to them.”

Under surveillance

The German intelligence services had had some of the men in contact with Atta under surveillance, and had even tapped a number of phone calls made by some of the group’s associates.

But they never had enough to realise what was happening – and although other intelligence services had information which, had it all been fitted together, could have conceivably prevented the attacks, this was not done.

Afterwards, Hamburg authorities would discover two of the crucial helpers, Said Bahaji and Ramzi Binalshibh, had left just days before the attacks. Prosecutors had to content themselves with men on the outer reaches of the group.

“It was difficult afterwards to prosecute those with these tendencies, who were in the milieu around this group,” said Murck.

The federal prosecutors started around 15 investigations of people in the Hamburg grouping, but only two came to trial – Abdelghani Mzoudi and Mounir Motassadeq.

Investigations came to nothing

"The others came to nothing due to a lack of evidence of crimes having been committed," said Murck. "The fact is, many of these radical Islamists have contact in other cities in this network of Jihadists, but that is not enough to prove a crime.”

Charges of accessory to murder for those killed in the attacks were eventually dismissed in Mzoudi’s case – on the reasoning that if the attack was not planned in Hamburg he could not have been involved.

With Motassadeq, Germany secured the first of only a handful of convictions of people in connection with 9/11. He was found guilty of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and is now half-way through a 15-year prison sentence.

Yet his lawyer Udo Jacob told The Local that the conviction was wrong, based on the assumption that the plans for the 9/11 attack were drawn up in Hamburg, which is a theory no longer generally accepted.

He is trying to persuade the German justice system to re-hear the case, hoping to dig up new evidence which would convince a court to acquit and release his client.

He said the prosecutors’ reasoning was that he must have known what they were planning, as he was friends with them – yet he barely saw them after their trip to Afghanistan when they were recruited to the al-Qaida plot.

A verdict based on assumption?

Story continues below…

“It was a verdict based on a theory, an assumption,” said Jacob, who hopes to persuade Mzoudi to return from his home in Morocco to Germany to testify in any new hearing of the Motassadeq case.

“The Motassadeq case is one which does not let me go,” said Jacob. “It was a defeat for us, but also a defeat for German justice. It was a wrong verdict. I hope the justice system takes the chance to reverse it.”

Another Hamburg associate of the Atta group, who also has other connections to al-Qaida, is Mahmoud Darkazanli, a German citizen who rejected several recruitment attempts by German and American intelligence services.

He remains at liberty in Hamburg, said Murck, admitting there was nothing the authorities could pin on him.

"We have in Hamburg, in the years since 2001, extradited around 15 people. That was possible – you need more evidence if you want to prosecute them but you can extradite them," he said. "This was not possible with Mahmoud Darkazanli for example, as he has German citizenship.”

Danger still present

He admitted the danger of terrorism was still present, but said German authorities were more effective now than a decade ago – internally as well as in terms of cooperation with their foreign counterparts.

Unfortunately, the tool of extradition is pretty much the only one the German authorities have to get rid of people who are considered to be a potential threat, he said.

“We have closed down the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg too, depriving Islamists of their most important meeting place," Murck said. "But we know there are people here who support the idea of Jihad and who will perhaps join the fight.”

Hannah Cleaver (hannah.cleaver@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:00 September 9, 2011 by freechoice
Wholly Smoke! For a moment I thought Hamburg is being attacked!
12:59 September 9, 2011 by jbaker
Germany is known for high quality engineering and producing high quality engineers, how many of you recognized a controlled demolition on 9/11? Hey Neo - something seems off with the world today.
15:28 September 9, 2011 by JDee
but to be fair the majority of the readers here are probably not German.. I don't even think that is a real image above the article, it's a screenshot from one of the composite feeds used on the day, hence the strange perspecetive where you can see the roof of the trade towers even though the camera angle appears to be looking from below and you can't see the flat roofs of other buildings which are far lower, kindof hard to tell without making comparisons, but if you are that way inclined go and look at as many pictures of the trade towers you can find from before 9/11 and you will get the idea.. ( google World Trade Centre ) and then wonder where these strange pictures were taken from
15:35 September 9, 2011 by catjones
And if they were meeting at the local bratwurst stand would you close it down 'depriving Islamists of their most important meeting place'?

The tone of this and other similar articles concerning germany is to deflect blame. 'But they were not in Hamburg for long after that. They went to the USA in order to train and prepare. They were hardly here once the plan had been decided upon and given to them.'

Don't worry hamburgers, no one is going to sue you confiscate your city jet.
15:56 September 9, 2011 by derExDeutsche
'Plans were made in Afghanistan'

How does one arrive in arrive in the USA from Germany without making ANY plans in Germany? Amazing feat !

'Investigations came to nothing' 'A verdict based on assumption?' Thanks for clearing that up, theLocal.de .
17:18 September 9, 2011 by Englishted
I don't blame Hamburg for the actions of these evil men .

But if you invented the Hamburger and this led to mac and king hold your heads in shame.
17:26 September 9, 2011 by MarshaLynn
Liberals in Western Europe are the same as liberals in America, i.e., not realistic. Things go on right under their noses because in the interest of "tolerance" they don't want to "stigmatize" anyone. Heaven forbid were they unfair enough to question anyone's activities based on their appearance. After all, we all know it is little gray-haired, blue-eyed, frail, Caucasian grandmothers who commit all the acts of terrorism!
17:53 September 9, 2011 by marimay
MarshaLynn never heard of that blue-eyed caucasian christian in norway, apparently.
20:12 September 9, 2011 by Englishted
I think the attack in Norway,was not a act of terrorism ,it was murder true but not to terrorize the public.He planned the attack on a small island and knew who his victims where.

That is not terrorism as I understand the word.
21:09 September 9, 2011 by DinhoPilot

Oh yeah. He just blew up a car. Went in shooting rampage. That's not terrorism, that expressing different views right?

What are you smoking now? Is it cause its friday. It's not terrorism my ass. London attacks and Madrid were not terrorism? Or will you label them as normal commuting disroption. In north Ireland there were not terrorist, eta, red army faction?

Solo or in a group, terrorism.
21:12 September 9, 2011 by expatriarch
@JDee - I think you what you think is the top of WTC2 is actually smoke trapped in a type of vortex from the upward movement of smoke and heat along the building. If you watch some close-up footage of the top of the buildings you would see the effect. That being said, I don't think the image is original and seem to have some color filters applied and maybe some grain. I wonder if someone sent it through Instagram (the iOS app).
22:20 September 9, 2011 by DOZ
Three Non-Identical Buildings collapsed in Perfect Identical Fashion. The North Americans are so under-educated that they believe that this was caused by fire. What a bunch of Morons. One thing for sure, is that the Demolition was much too precise for any North American Technology. Did Germany provide the CIA with the Hardware?
01:34 September 10, 2011 by lenny van
How long must we look at that picture of Westerwelle. Please take it down.
04:40 September 10, 2011 by catjones
DOZ....the buildings were designed to have more than five floors.....germans have no experience there.
16:11 September 10, 2011 by willowsdad
I'm from New York and Hamburg is never mentioned in regard to the attacks.
20:49 September 10, 2011 by DOZ
Thanks for the Information. I knew that the attacks against myself and my son (by Eastern-Canadian Cowards) in Ontario, "Canada" and my son was a result of 9/11. I didn't know about the Hamburg connection. This happened in a Town (small city) closely connected with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
00:46 September 11, 2011 by DrGideonPolya
Why should Hamburg feel embarrassed when it is almost certain that the US did 9-11?

Science, architecture , engineering, aviation, military and intelligence experts say that the US did 9-11, some suggesting Apartheid Israeli involvement (Google "US did 9-11").

Thus for example Professor Niels Harrit (Chemistry Department, 9-Nobel-Laureate University of Copenhagen) who identified unexploded nano-thermite in all World Trade Center dust samples analyzed: "¦quot;We haven¦#39;t seen the evidence for this person [Osama] actually being guilty in the crime, and he is not wanted by the FBI for this attack on 9/11... There is no doubt that this building [WTC7] was taken down in a controlled demolition ... We know explosives were used... Nano-thermite shouldn¦#39;t have been there¦quot;.

War-related Muslin deaths in the Bush-Obama War on Terror now total 9 million, the breakdown being 2.7 million (Iraq), 1.1 million (Somalia) and 5.0 million (Afghanistan).

Muslim refugees have totalled about 20 million, the breakdown being 5-6 million (Iraq), 7 million (Palestine) , 2.0 million (Somalia) and 3-4 million (Afghanistan) p;us a further 2.5 million Pashtun refugees generated by Obama in NW Pakistan.

Bush, Obama, Blair, Brown, Cameron , Harper, Sarkozy, Merkel, Howard, Rudd, Gillard and their associates should be arraigned before the International Criminal Court.
13:05 September 11, 2011 by Englishted

Look up the word before you come on sooo strong.

I was saying only his attack on the island was not terrorism.

You are correct the bomb was terrorism.

Because it was aimed at unknown members of the public as were London,Madrid and New York.

As you say he went on a shooting rampage ,but so do many idiots who we don't class as terrorists .


Please don't take this personally but you talk through your rear end.
02:30 September 12, 2011 by mainhatten
Thank GOD George W. Bush was president on 9/11. He led our nation with strength, honor, dignity, determination, and compassion. He led us to recovery, removed a bloodthirsty dictator, liberated two nations, and set in motion the current Arab freedom movement. He never gave up on our military when others said the war in Iraq was lost. He has never spoken an ill word against his detractors despite their often cruel and crude remarks. Mr. Bush never wavered and often stood alone against unyielding criticism and scorn. And he was unashamed to shed a tear or grieve with those who suffered the loss of a loved one. History is already proving he was correct and in the end he will be remembered not as a fool or a dunce but as a courageous leader who stood his ground did what was required to protect freedom from evil. If only Chamberlain and others had stood their ground against Hitler rather than appeasing evil they too would be remembered today as courageous leaders rather than stooges and accomplices to world destruction. God Bless George W. Bush!
21:17 September 16, 2011 by willowsdad
Mainhattan: What an absolute load of excrement.
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