'Terror cell' found in cradle of 9/11

Members of Hamburg group 'had attended military training camps'

German intelligence services were yesterday reported to have discovered a new Islamic terrorist cell operating from the port of Hamburg – the same city from which the devastating 9/11 attacks on the United States were secretly conceived and planned eight years ago.

The existence of the new militant group in the city was revealed in a secret report prepared by Hamburg-based intelligence agents which was leaked to German television's investigative documentary programme Report Mainz and Die Welt newspaper.

It said the cell, which had ten members, was headed by a German of Syrian extraction, identified only as Rami M. All ten were said to have left Hamburg earlier this year to attend paramilitary training camps in the Hindu Kush. However two of the cell's members were reported to have recently returned. All of them were said to have used Hamburg's Taiba Mosque as a meeting place, the same location frequented by the 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta and his accomplices before they carried out the attacks on New York's World Trade Centre and Washington.

"It is to be assumed that these persons are absolutely prepared to carry out suicide or other attacks at home or abroad," the report was cited as saying. "The members of the group have a basic commitment to jihad and belong to Hamburg's potentially violent pro-jihad scene."

The disclosures came amid heightened post-general election nervousness in Germany about the possibility of terrorist attacks and the release of some eight al-Qa'ida internet videos in German threatening violence in response to the continued deployment of 4,200 Bundeswehr troops in northern Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Germany's security services were heavily criticised for failing to catch the perpetrators. Since then they appear to have redoubled their efforts and operate closely with their US counterparts.

The leaks about the Hamburg cell came only days after German anti-terrorist police took the unprecedented step of throwing a massive security cordon around the Munich Oktoberfest. Revellers at the world's largest beer festival held in the Bavarian capital each autumn were searched and fighter jets were put on standby near the site.

"The danger is absolutely real," said Joachim Hermann, the Bavarian Interior Minister yesterday. "We know that increasing numbers are attending these training camps."

Germany's Federal Criminal Bureau says around 180 Islamic militants have either attended or are planning to attend paramilitary al-Qa'ida-run training camps in the Hindu Kush and that about 80 had returned to Germany.

The latest of eight recent al-Qa'ida videos in German surfaced at the weekend. They included threats delivered by a 32-year-old German Moroccan called Bekkay Harrach, a student who once lived in Bonn but who is now thought to be living on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The clips also contained statements by militants hitherto unknown to the intelligence services.

In one of his statements, Harrach evidently wanted to evoke the 2004 Madrid bombings which killed 191 people days before a Spanish general election. He threatened attacks within two weeks of Germany's general election and warned Muslims living there be on their guard.

German security experts have interpreted the latest threats as an attempt to put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel's new coalition of conservatives and liberals, which is committed to keeping troops in Afghanistan for the forseeable future.

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