Hamburg cell reveals details
September 18, 2001 Posted: 10:30 PM EDT (0230 GMT)
Mohamed Atta spent eight years as a student in Hamburg
HAMBURG, Germany (CNN) -- Detailed information has emerged from Germany about the lives and personalities of three of the 19 suspected hijackers in the terrorist attacks on the United States.
German federal prosecutors last week presented Hamburg's Technical University with a list of 13 people they are seeking, said a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, Frauke-Katrin Scheuten.
The three suspects known to investigators are Ziad Jarrah, Marwan al-Shehhi and Mohammed Atta.
Only after the three men perished in attacks did German federal prosecutors, acting on a tip from the FBI, pinpoint the Hamburg cell it is believed they formed early this year to target symbolic U.S. targets.
Atta, 33, who the FBI said was on American Airlines Flight 11 -- the first plane to hit the World Trade Center -- was an architect described as a model student at Hamburg's Technical University.
All three left Germany last year to take flight lessons in the United States, investigators say.
Professor Dittmar Machule, taught Atta during his eight years at the Hamburg campus and supervised his graduation thesis in urban planning.
Machule told CNN: "He wrote on the preface where he thanked us for helping him, a phrase from the Koran."
The phrase -- written in German -- says: "Say you, my prayer and my charities, and my life and my death belong to Allah, the master of the universe."
Machule was surprised, he says, because the thesis had nothing to do with religion, but he accepted Atta's explanation that he wanted to dedicate his work to God.
"After all those horrible events," he told CNN, "I look at that phrase, and now of course I interrpret it totally differently."
Ziad Jarrah suddenly quit his studies in Hamburg in 1999
Ruediger Bendlin, a spokesman for the university, said: "It's terrible. We don't know how to bear it. We always ask ourselves if we did something wrong."
Some who remember Atta in Hamburg note the only remarkable thing about him was that he avoided alcohol and women -- he wouldn't even shake a woman's hand.
"He was always curt whenever women came up and asked something," one student, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. "He didn't like to talk to them. He was almost rude."
During his studies, Atta, who was known as Mohamed El-Amir, would frequently disappear for months.
In 1995, after beginning his thesis, he disappeared for nearly four years, Machule said. He reappeared to finish and defend his work in 1999 -- sporting a traditional Muslim beard.
The ignominious link to Hamburg has deeply shaken the country's second largest city, a flourishing northern German port of 1.7 million, including 200,000 Muslims.
"It just wipes me away to think that these students were here," said Severin. "It's horrifying and depressing for us."
Hunsung added: "They probably didn't have a mind to become terrorists. They met here in Hamburg.
"They lived totally orderly lives and no one took notice of them and that could have happened in everywhere and its just an accident it happened in Hamburg and its just something of deep concern for us and we are ashamed about it a lot and think if you read the evidence correctly it could have happened in any places in the international world."