German authorities today closed a Hamburg mosque once frequented by Mohammad Atta, a Sept. 11 pilot and planner – saying the mosque, located behind Hamburg’s main rail station and next to a fitness center, remained a “central attraction for the jihadist scene.”
The closing of the “Masjid Taiba” in Hamburg comes a month after Norwegian police arrested three men accused of involvement with Al Qaeda – a Chinese Uigher, an Iraqi Kurd, and an Uzbek – and charged them with planning to build a peroxide-based bomb. One of the arrests took place in Germany.
In Hamburg, no mosque-goers were arrested, and police offered few specifics on the early morning raid and shutdown – though Lothar Bergmann, head of the city’s antiterror unit, said that one prayer leader, a Syrian-German named Mamoun Darkazanli, is a “preacher of hate” and involved in recruiting for jihad causes.
Yet one link between the Norwegian arrests and the German mosque shut down is an ongoing concern by European security officials of the burgeoning transnational character of Islamist thinking and organizations, in which jihadi cadres from various nations are breaking free from old “national” groupings and working more closely together in causes that are less “territorial” and more ideological.
Moroccans, Bosnians, Pakistanis
The Hamburg mosque reportedly hosted Moroccans, Bosnians, Saudis, Egyptians, as well as Muslims from the Caucasus and Pakistan – and a host of German converts. German authorities told local media that Taiba mosque-goers were in touch with “radicals” in at least five other German cities, and that they spoke of becoming martyrs, though no plots or planned jihad are currently known.
Mosques are well known as centers of hospitality and equality, and various nationalities from around the world attend them. But they can develop reputations based on the character and message of the imam.
A Washington-based expert on Pakistan-Afghan jihad groups points out that “Every day we hear of a different nationality arrested or killed in Waziristan, Pakistan, or Afghanistan -- someone from Uzbekistan, from Yemen, from Egypt, from the Gulf. So you see some ability to project a set of individuals, a united front, anywhere, in which the racial or national background is not important. Often the core member is Arab, but not always.”
Mr. Darkazanli, the imam, has been closely watched since Sept. 11 as a purported sympathizer with the plot to destroy the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He is on a European terror watch list but has never been formally linked to the Sept. 11 event.
German authorities say some 25 persons are members of an Islamic society affiliated with the Taiba mosque, and German media report that an estimated 45 persons in Hamburg are known as Islamist extremists who advocate jihad.
Mosque attendance on Friday is said to be between 200 and 250 people – not necessarily large by European big city standards.
After the Norwegian arrests of the three ethnically very different militants, analyst Maha Azzam of London’s Chatham House suggested that various ethnic groups were starting to come together and project themselves abroad under various Islamist or jihad banners, something she characterized as a new development:
“Different nationalities are coming together,” Ms. Azzam pointed out. “They are being stopped at the moment, but there is a connectivity that is succeeding … a thread that is bonding these individuals in the name of a cause.”