BERLIN (AP) — A small Hamburg mosque once frequented by Sept. 11 attackers was shut down and searched Monday because German authorities believed the prayer house was again being used as a meeting point for Islamic radicals.
The Taiba mosque was closed and the cultural association that runs it was banned, officials in the northern German city of Hamburg said.
“We have closed the mosque because it was a recruiting and meeting point for Islamic radicals who wanted to participate in so-called jihad or holy war,” said Frank Reschreiter, a spokesman for the Hamburg state interior ministry.
He said 20 police officers were searching the building and had confiscated material, including several computers. He said he had no information about any arrests.
The homes of leading members of the cultural association were also searched and the group’s assets were confiscated, Hamburg’s state government said in a statement.
The prayer house, until two years ago known as the al-Quds mosque, was a meeting and recruiting point years ago for some of the Sept. 11 attackers before they moved to the United States, authorities say. Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta as well as attackers Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah had studied in Hamburg and frequented the al-Quds mosque.
Reschreiter said the mosque had been under observation by local intelligence officers for “quite a long time” and this was the first time it had been closed. The local interior ministry said about 45 supporters of jihad live in the Hamburg area and around 200 people regularly attend Friday prayers at the Taiba mosque.
The ministry also said that over the years, the mosque also became a magnet for so-called jihad tourists — Muslims from out of town who bragged about having worshipped at the same mosque were once the Sept. 11 terrorists gathered for prayer.
The banned group’s home page on the Web had been taken down by Monday and it was not possible to reach any members directly.
A 2009 report by the Hamburg branch of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said the mosque had again become the “center of attraction for the jihad scene” in the northern port city.
The current imam is Mamoun Darkazanli, who was questioned following the 2001 attacks after it emerged that he moved in some of the same circles as the hijackers. Darkazanli, a dual citizen of Germany and Syria, denied any links to Osama bin Laden or the attacks.
In October 2004, he was arrested in Hamburg on a Spanish warrant accusing him of involvement with al-Qaida and alleging that he was a bin Laden financier.
His extradition was blocked by Germany’s high court and he was eventually released. In 2006, German prosecutors closed their own investigation of him, saying there was insufficient evidence to show that Darkazanli supported al-Qaida.
“He is a hate preacher,” the head of the Hamburg anti-terror department, Lothar Bergmann, said at a news conference, the German news agency DAPD reported. Manfred Murck, the deputy head of the domestic intelligence agency’s local branch, called him an “elder statesman of jihad.”
The Hamburg interior ministry said a group of 11 militants who had traveled to military training camps in Uzbekistan in March 2009 was formed at Taiba mosque.
It said Monday that “the training courses, sermons and seminars by the association as well texts published on the group’s home page not only violate the constitution but also radicalize listeners and readers.”
Most of the group’s members were either German converts, of Middle Eastern origin or from the Caucasus region.
“A very important factor for the radicalization of the group members was certainly their joint visits to the mosque,” the intelligence report stated.
It appears that one man from the group joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist organization in Central Asia, the report said.
A spokesman for an association of 30 mosques in Hamburg condemned the authorities’ closure of Taiba mosque.
“I think this was a wrong move,” Norbert Mueller of the Schura Association of Islamic Communities in Hamburg told The Associated Press. “Closing mosques does not make jihadists disappear.”
The radical supporters of Taiba had been isolated among Hamburg’s Muslim community, Mueller said. He warned that they would now try to infiltrate other Muslim groups in the city.
“At least it was easy to keep them under surveillance as long as they all met at Taiba,” Mueller said.