On Marien Street, a Hamburg thoroughfare lined with apartment
buildings with red-tiled roofs, No. 54 is an unremarkable off-white
In a country that is home to about 7 million immigrants, the
sight of several clean-cut Arab students coming and going from the
lace-curtained home is not unusual.
This was the home of Mohamed Atta, the presumed ringleader of the
Sept. 11 attacks who apparently piloted one of the jets into the
World Trade Center. Atta shared the home with Marwan al-Shehhi,
suspected of crashing the second plane in New York, and Ziad Jarrah,
suspected of flying the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
In hindsight, authorities are learning lessons about how they
could have detected the presence of a terrorist cell. But one of the
biggest needs, they say, is for better cooperation among agencies -
cooperation that may have linked Atta's cell with operatives now
under arrest in Madrid.
Atta was believed to have been in contact with Imad Eddin Barakat
Yarbas, also know as Abu Dahdah, head of a Spanish Islamic group
that called itself "The Soldiers of Allah." Mr. Dahdah reportedly
traveled widely, contacting other Islamic extremists in Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Jordan.
The Hamburg cell's cooperation with the one in Madrid shows how
easy it is for Al Qaeda groups to blend into countries with large
immigrant populations. "We had no suspicions that there was an Al
Qaeda cell in Hamburg," a high-ranking German secret service
official says. "We knew there were some Islamic extremists in the
city, but these young men were totally unsuspicious. They didn't so
much as get a parking ticket."
German and American law enforcement agencies are also searching
for three fugitives: Said Bahaji of Germany, Zakariya Essabar of
Morocco, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh of Yemen.
Analysts speculate that, although militants involved in the Sept.
11 attacks lived in many European countries, they were particularly
attracted to Germany because of its lax immigration laws and
population of 3 million Muslims.
Hamburg, in particular, has a large, well-integrated Muslim
community, including the largest Afghan community in Europe. Because
Hamburg's Muslim community was quiet and moderate, it was also not
under heavy surveillance.
Out of 122 secret service agents in Hamburg, only one was
assigned to "Islamic extremists," which include everything from the
ethnic-Albanian UCK to the Turkish PKK. Until Sept. 11, Hamburg
security forces were more concerned with the city's left-wing
extremists who periodically engage in destructive demonstrations. …