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Hamburg cell reveals details

Mohamed Atta spent eight years as a student in Hamburg
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.

Joerg Severin, the university's chancellor, said on Monday that the university had examined a list of names provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and found seven of them on the university's database, four of them currently enrolled.

But the Interior Ministry later said its investigation only showed that three of the suspected suicide hijackers lived in Hamburg for a time and that at least two of them studied at the Technical University.

CNN's Betina Luscher explains how German officials were unaware that their country was home to three suspected terrorists in the attack on America (September 18)

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Hamburg's Interior Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday: "What we have are three dead former students.

"Then there are other people in their circle, who are not suspected of involvement. Regarding these other people, there have been no arrests, merely house searches."

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.

Jarrah, 26, who was aboard the United Airlines plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, was a student at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg where he studied aeronautical engineering.

Al-Shehhi, 23, identified by the FBI as a hijacker on the United Airlines plane that hit the south tower of the World Trade Center, in New York, studied in a German-language program in 1997 and 1998 at the University of Bonn under the name Marwan Lekrab.

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.

On Monday, the German federal prosecutor's office said it had searched three apartments -- one in Hamburg and two in Bochum -- in connection with the investigation.

Spokesman Hartmut Schneider told the Associated Press: "At the moment, the aim is to clarify how the three suspected terrorists lived."

Al-Shehhi lived in a Bonn student residence in the first half of 1999, and passed an examination that summer aimed at demonstrating proficiency to apply to a Germany university, the Bonn University said in a statement.

It described al-Shehhi as "a very reserved, orderly person."

Jarrah, a Lebanese national, was reported missing by his girlfriend, who has been placed under witness protection.

Marwan al-Shehhi studied in Bonn before moving to Hamburg
Marwan al-Shehhi studied in Bonn before moving to Hamburg  

German federal investigators say they found a suitcase containing "airplane-related documents" in the girlfriend's apartment, in Bochum.

In Lebanon, Jarrah's uncle, Jamal, said his nephew was a secular-minded student who drank alcohol, which is forbidden by Islam.

In an exclusive CNN interview, Hans Gerhard Husung, President of the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg said confirmation that Jarrah had been a student was "very unpleasant and disturbing news."

Husung said: "He came to our university in 1997, started his course but so far after eight semesters we can say he hasn't passed the mid examinations which usually have to pass between three and four semesters.

"So it appears he managed to pass examinations for both courses in maths and physics but he didn't come close to any information or knowledge about constructing airplanes or even how to fly airplanes."

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
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."

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