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Terror Suspects Questioned in Germany

July 4, 2002

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BERLIN (AP) _ German police have questioned and released seven suspected Islamic extremists who were believed plotting new terrorist attacks, including one man who once shared an apartment with ringleaders of the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg that carried out the Sept. 11 terror missions.

Italian authorities have questioned an eighth suspect.

One of the men lived in a Marienstrasse apartment with Zakariya Essabar and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, two members of the Hamburg terror cell who remain at-large, Frauke Scheuten, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office, said Thursday.

The presumed leader of the Hamburg cell, Mohamed Atta, also lived in the apartment at one time, but had moved out by the time suspect Abdelghani Mzoudi moved in on Sept. 1, 1999, Scheuten said. Atta was believed to have been piloting one of the hijacked planes that crashed in to the World Trade Center.

But Mzoudi, 29, had other links to Atta, having signed his will and appearing with him in a wedding video.

The men were released several hours after being picked up in early morning searches at their apartments and a bookshop Wednesday, police spokeswoman Christiane Leven said without elaboration.

Another official said despite five months of surveillance, the raids did not turn up enough evidence to hold them.

Scheuten said the investigators had seized large amounts of material that they still were studying.

Investigators suspect the men, along with the eighth questioned in Italy, had formed an Islamic fundamentalist group with the aim of carrying out new attacks, the federal prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

A video of suspected terrorist Said Bahaji’s wedding, which authorities have cited previously, showed both Mzoudi and Atta, indicating the men had contact with one another, police spokesman Reinhard Fallak said at a news conference. Bahaji disappeared days before the attack.

A U.S. list of 370 individuals and organizations with suspected links to Sept. 11 listed Abdelghani Mzoudi with a Hamburg address.

Police identified the other suspects as: Abdelhak S., 32; Hatem S., 28; El Mostafa T., 42, Asadullah M., 48; Lahoucine S., 32; Abderrazek L., 39, and Mohamed J. 51. The men are from Morocco, Afghanistan and Egypt, while Mohamed J. is a German national, police said.

Prosecutors said the suspects regularly met at the Attawhid bookshop, run by a 32-year-old Moroccan. The shop, which was searched in the operation, is close to the al-Quds mosque where Atta used to pray.

Fallak said surveillance led police to believe they should act now to avoid ``unacceptable risks.″

``We had a suspicion that something was growing, so we did something before it could,″ Fallak said.

Investigators confiscated computers and notes in their searches, but didn’t find evidence that would allow police to continue to hold most of the suspects.

Andreas Croll, who heads the investigative team that watched the group, said several of the suspects were heard saying they wanted to die for their religion.

``They explained they wanted to give their lives for Islam,″ Croll said. ``The group strives for a worldwide holy state and does not accept the free democratic constitutional structure.″

Prosecutors did not elaborate on the group’s aims but said that ``indications of plans with concrete targets have not yet been found.″

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