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Hamburg's Cauldron of Terror

As a full-fledged apostle of jihad, Zammar quickly became one of the best known figures in the tight extremist Islamic community in Hamburg. He railed against the United States and the West.

"We cannot just sit and do nothing," Zammar said in a speech about the West's injustices against Islam, according to Azam Irschid, deputy director of the Al Muhadjirin mosque. "Who are the worst terrorists?" Zammar shouted on another occasion. "The so-called civilized world."

Authorities remove boxes from firm owned by a German Syrian in Fitzbek, northern Germany, as part of the continuing investigation into the Hamburg cell. (AP)


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Abderrasak Labied remembers an invitation to Zammar's home around this time. Labied remains a roommate of one of the signatories to Atta's will, Abdelghani Mzoudi, and has been questioned by German police about the Hamburg cell. Officials allege that Labied was among a group of radicals who pledged themselves to martyrdom in the backroom of the Attawhid Islamic bookstore in Hamburg this April. Labied denies the charge.

But Labied is open about his friendships with the group that included the hijackers. In a recent interview, he recalled a dinner at Zammar's apartment in mid-1999 after a game of soccer in a local park. Zammar cooked a dish of chopped meat, with tomatoes, onions and rice. He even baked a cake for dessert, laughing loudly as he puttered.

Among those at the table with Zammar were young men from Somalia, Ethiopia, Algeria and Morocco, whom Zammar regaled with stories from the front lines of the holy war, Labied recalled.

The big man was looking for volunteers.

Connections at the Mosque

Mohamed Atta got to know Zammar in the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg, most likely in 1998, according to U.S., German and Arab sources. Atta had arrived in Hamburg in 1992 and later enrolled at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg. A disciplined student and pious Muslim, Atta was reserved and aloof, particularly in the company of Germans.

Among fellow Muslims, he could be a hectoring moralist. He chastised Ziad Samir Jarrah and Marwan Al-Shehhi for their affection for music, alcohol and cigarettes until his two young companions also renounced the trappings of Western indulgence.

The Al Quds mosque opened in 1993 and became a center for incendiary views. "The Jews and crusaders must have their throats slit," said Imam Mohammed bin Mohammed al Fizazi in a pre-Sept. 11 sermon, which was videotaped.

Such preaching has continued. The Post last month purchased a video at the Al Quds mosque in which an Islamic preacher, identified as Sheik Azid al Kirani, shouts out a call for mortal combat against "Jews, Israel and all unbelievers."

The mosque is spread over three floors of an unremarkable building near the Hamburg train station and a red-light district. It is across the street from a police station. On the first floor is the prayer room for men, where both the carpets and wall are turquoise. The room for men can fit 400 people, said Abdel Aziz Alaoui, the mosque director. On the left is the women's prayer room, unpainted and uncarpeted.

By 1998, when he met Zammar, Atta had been a regular at the mosque for at least four years. He also had attended study groups run by a local radical, Mohammed bin Nasser Belfas. Atta visited the Attawhid bookstore where literature and videos on jihad were sold from a backroom that the public could not enter.

These places were the first of several local hubs for the Hamburg cell. Its members had come to Germany as students from different Arab countries between 1992 and 1997. After attending a variety of colleges, they met in Hamburg between the mid- and late 1990s, according to Kay Nehm, Germany's lead federal prosecutor.

Mounir Motassadeq, for instance, met Atta in 1995 and the following year was a signatory to Atta's will. Motassadeq later introduced Atta to both Said Bahaji, a German Moroccan, and Zakariya Essabar, a Moroccan. Atta met Al-Shehhi, from the United Arab Emirates, at a German language school in Bonn in 1997. Jarrah, from Lebanon, came into the circle through Essabar. Ramzi Binalshibh, an asylum-seeker from Yemen, met the group through the Al Quds mosque.

Others floated into the circle, but for one reason or another were cast aside. Through friendship, belief and ambition, these seven crystallized as a unit: Atta, Al-Shehhi, Jarrah, Binalshibh, Bahaji, Motassadeq and Essabar.

"The mastermind of the group was . . . Atta," Nehm said. "He was considered the boss of the group on grounds of his age, his longer stay in Germany and the resulting good language skills, but also on grounds of his organizing talents and his persuasiveness.'

In November 1998, Atta, Binalshibh and Bahaji moved into an apartment on Marien Street near the university. Al-Shehhi also lived there occasionally, and Motassadeq, Essabar and Jarrah met the others for long discussions in the apartment.

Zammar was a frequent visitor, but quickly he was eclipsed by Atta as the voice of authority. Zammar was respected mostly for his contacts with an international network.

"While up to then, the group members seemed modern and open and had Western appearances and some even led consumerist, hedonistic lives, their behavior and looks changed now for [fundamentalist] ones," Nehm said.

Jarrah forsook the parties and alcohol that he loved and grew a beard. Essabar sold his television set and VCR. Al-Shehhi, who used to rent a Mercedes to cut a flashy figure, took to wearing traditional Afghan clothes, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Atta refused to shake hands with women, even when a female professor informed him he had secured his master's degree in town planning and extended her hand to congratulate him.


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