- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

U.S. and German authorities investigating the September 11 assault on America have intensified their search for a Yemenite man who once shared an apartment in Hamburg with Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader in the suicide attacks.
More than a dozen FBI agents are working with German authorities in the hunt for Ramzi Binalshibh, 29, as a potential key suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 5,000 people. He was last seen in Hamburg in August and was believed to have fled to the Middle East.
German authorities have issued arrest warrants for Mr. Binalshibh and two colleagues Said Bahaji, 26, a German of Moroccan descent, and Zakariya Essabar, 24, a Moroccan national. All three were believed by U.S. and German authorities to be members of a terrorist cell based in Hamburg that plotted attacks against U.S. targets.
The warrants name Mr. Binalshibh, Mr. Bahaji and Mr. Essabar on "charges of forming a terrorist organization and at least 5,000 counts of murder."
U.S. and German law enforcement officials identified the three men as having ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network and believed Mr. Binalshibh was "closely associated" with at least three of the 19 hijackers in the attacks, including Atta.
German police said Mr. Binalshibh also spoke with Zarcarias Moussaoui, a French Moroccan who is being held in New York by the FBI's Terrorism Task Force as a material witness in the investigation of the attacks. That conversation occurred when Mr. Moussaoui was attending a flight school in Oklahoma.
Mr. Moussaoui was arrested on Aug. 17 after he sought lessons at a Minnesota flight school but wanted only to learn how to steer a jetliner, not land or take off.
Authorities said Hamburg served as a central base of operations for Atta and two other hijackers, Marwan Al-Shehhi, the suspected pilot of the United Airlines flight that crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower, and Ziad Jarrah, suspected of flying the plane that crashed in western Pennsylvania.
Atta, named as the pilot aboard the American Airlines flight that crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower, shared an apartment with Mr. Binalshibh in Hamburg. Authorities said Mr. Binalshibh sought to gain entry to the United States in the months before the attacks but was denied.
Authorities believe Mr. Binalshibh was one of the intended hijackers until his entry into this country was denied. They said at least three U.S. visa applications were rejected because of concerns that he may have been involved in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
Germany's chief prosecutor, Kay Nehm, has said Mr. Binalshibh took flight lessons with Atta in Venice, Fla., and later attempted unsuccessfully to obtain additional lessons at the same school. The prosecutor said Mr. Binalshibh was denied a U.S. visa in August or September 2000 when he tried to attend the Florida Flight Training Center which also was attended by Jarrah after making a $2,200 payment.
The prosecutor recently told reporters in Hamburg that since at least 1999, Mr. Binalshibh was "part of the preparations" for the September 11 attacks.
Mr. Binalshibh, a former bank employee in Yemen, reportedly left Germany on Sept. 5 and had not been seen since. Authorities believed he fled to the Middle East, probably Pakistan, although they were uncertain if he later went to Afghanistan.
Authorities said Mr. Binalshibh arranged for accommodations in Hamburg for Atta, Al-Shehhi and Jarrah, and helped them obtain passports, visas and other documents.
They suspected that Mr. Binalshibh provided the infrastructure so that Atta, Al-Shehhi and Jarrah so-called "sleeper" agents could escape notice until they were needed.
The FBI investigation of Atta also has focused on Germany, where Atta is believed to have planned the attacks. Authorities believe Atta not only directed the September 11 operation but arranged its financing.
Authorities are tracking Atta's movements in Germany and in this country, trying to identify others who may have been associates or accomplices in the attacks.


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