New York Times
September 14, 2001

German Officials Link 3 Arab Men to Attack


Berlin -- German authorities said today that three men suspected in the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington had plotted the operation while living in Hamburg.

The men were Arabs and belonged to an extremist group committed to attacking symbolic American targets, said Germany's chief prosecutor, Kay Nehm.

"It is suspected that they have been building an organization since the beginning of the year among people living there of Arab origins and Islamic fundamentalist beliefs, with the intention, in connection with other Islamic fundamentalist groups, of inflicting severe violence on foreign targets, especially in a spectacular way through the destruction of symbolic buildings in the United States," Mr. Nehm said.

German officials said there was no evidence so far that directly linked the suspects to Osama bin Laden, the militant Islamic leader who is a Saudi exile.

The men, who sometimes shared an apartment, were electrical engineering students at the Technical University in Hamburg, officials said.

One of the men, Mohammed Atta, 33, had been enrolled as a student for eight years but rarely appeared at classes, according to report that is to appear in the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper. Marwan Yusef Mohammed al-Shehhi, 23, was registered as a student for a year, the paper said. Both left Germany for the United States on May 2.

Mr. Atta and Mr. al-Shehhi, who told German authorities they were citizens of the United Arab Emirates, are suspected of hijacking the first plane that hit the World Trade Center. The third man, whom German officials did not identify, shared the apartment from time to time and was booked on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Residents in Hamburg said the suspects often played loud Eastern music and often walked the streets in kaftans or turbans.

One neighbor, Josef Oblontschek, 50, told Reuters: "There were three men, they always had a lot of visitors. When you asked them where they came from they said from Afghanistan."

German authorities said today that an airport worker, who was said to be Moroccan, was taken into custody in Hamburg in connection with the inquiry. Officials declined to disclose the man's name or the charges against him.

Security officials estimate that about 3,500 Arab militants live in Germany and raise significant sums of money for Mr. bin Laden and other Middle East radicals. There is a network to provide fake documents and shelter for militants, the security officials said.

Senior American officials here said that the amount of fund-raising in Germany for Mr. bin Laden and other radicals had never been a topic of conversation with the government here.

"That's likely to change," one official said. "There's a lot that's likely to change."

The new American ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats, said today that the German government at the highest levels had promised all cooperation and solidarity with the United States, which has more than 75,000 troops based in this country.

"The Germans have total understanding of the need to respond, that the United States must go forward, and they want to go forward with us," Mr. Coats said. "There are no reservations."

But Mr. Coats added that in his view, "this new war will be a different kind of war, a war of the future, requiring different means and methods, and the process will not be so public."

"It's terrorist guerrilla warfare," he said. "It's not Norman Schwarzkopf standing before a map and showing where our forces are."

Last year's trial on the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which went down over Scotland, indicated that some Arab extremist groups had chosen Germany as their base.

"We may have individuals, participants and conspirators here, but Germany functions more as a safe haven than an organizing center," said Kai Hafez, of the German Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg.

With its strong privacy laws, high levels of technology and the ease of travel within the European Union, Germany is an easy spot for prospective terrorists to live and train, Mr. Hafez said. Germany is also less likely to use electronic surveillance of telephone calls.

Bernd Schmidbauer, who was the security service coordinator in the government of the former chancellor Helmut Kohl, said in an interview that "Germany is no special hub of terrorism, but like other European countries, a resting place for certain terrorist groups."

"There have been resting places, `sleepers,' and active cells," Mr. Schmidbauer said, "and I am very concerned that these groups of sleepers could now be activated, making use of the present panic to carry out individual acts of terror."

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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