Some of the German-speaking militants who have been training for attacks on Western targets in Pakistani training camps may have come from the same Hamburg mosque where Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers gathered.
US and European officials said Tuesday they had detected a plot to carry out a major, coordinated series of commando-style terror attacks in Britain, France, Germany and possibly the United States by jihadis carrying European passports – a threat they say they learned of from a captured German-speaking terror suspect.
Guido Steinberg, a counter-terrorism analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said German jihadis have been recruited from mosques in Berlin, Bonn and Hamburg, including the former Al Quds mosque, where Ramzi Binalshibh, Atta, hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi and other conspirators joined forces.
German authorities shut down the al Quds mosque, which had since been renamed Taiba, on August 9. According to Der Spiegel, they raided the Taiba mosque because they believed it was still promoting jihad and that it "may have been a staging area" for would-be jihadis who traveled to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. German investigators said at the time that they believed 10 men from the mosque had gone to the camps.
Officials now believe at least one team of German jihadists was dispatched to Europe over the summer, travelling on German passports.
Steinberg said it was "quite shocking" that the former al Quds mosque was still producing jihadis. "There is a certain amount of continuity in German jihadism,' said Steinberg.
"Young men were being turned into religious fanatics there," said Christoph Ahlhaus, secretary of the interior for the city of Hamburg at the time the mosque was shut.
"Hamburg cannot become a cradle for Islamists capable of violence," said Ahlhaus, who has since become mayor of Hamburg.
Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the information about possible commando-style attacks was based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.
US law enforcement officials say they have been told the terrorists were planning a series of "Mumbai-style" commando raids on what were termed "economic or soft" targets in the countries. Pakistani militants killed 173 people with guns and grenades during the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
Germans Training in Al Qaeda-Connected Camps
According to Der Spiegel, a German identified as Ahmad S. who was detained by US forces in Afghanistan this summer allegedly had direct ties to Hamburg and the 9/11 plotters. Ahmad S. drove the father of Mounir al Motassadeq to visit Motassadeq in prison and vacationed with Motassadeq's family. Motassadeq, who helped run the al Quds mosque, was convicted in a German court for his role in the 9/11 attacks.
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In the past four years, dozens of German citizens have been recruited to train in al Qaeda-connected camps in Pakistan, according to US and German law enforcement officials. German language jihadi videos on the internet help to attract more trainees.
"Some are German converts, many are Turks, many are Arabs," said Guido Steinberg, a counter-terrorism analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "Right now we already have the first Afghans and even Iranians in these circles. It's a very mixed bunch of people -- quite international."
"The American authorities are extremely nervous about what is going on, the Germans are extremely nervous about what's going on," said Steinberg.
"The advantage, of course, is the passport," said Steinberg, "because with the German passport it's a lot easier to travel."
Travelers with German passports do not require a visa to enter the United States.
Steinberg said that many of the German jihadis who train in Pakistan are killed, "but those who come back are a threat. "And they are a threat not only to Germany," added Steinberg, "but also to our allies and especially the U.S. because they are extremely anti-American."