Advertisement

RESPONSE TO TERROR | THE INVESTIGATION / REFUGEES

Friends of Terror Suspect Say Allegations Make No Sense

Investigation: Ziad Jarrah, believed to be one of the 19 hijackers, appeared to embrace Western life.

October 23, 2001|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GREIFSWALD, Germany — Nearly every weekend of his childhood and adolescence, Ziad Samir Jarrah's doting parents drove him from war-ravaged Beirut to the Bekaa Valley oasis of Al-Marj so he could play with his cousin Salim.

Born just 40 days apart to two brothers of a close-knit and prosperous family, Ziad and Salim learned how to ride bikes together, how to drive and how to dodge their parents' plans for their future. More like twins than cousins, the two left Lebanon together April 4, 1996, at the age of 20, heading to the eastern German town of Greifswald in pursuit of both an education and a good time.

Today, Salim has a German wife, a young daughter and a thriving restaurant in Greifswald. He is a picture of integration and contentment. Ziad also seemed on track, destined for a career in aviation and a happy family life--until he turned up on the FBI list of the 19 suspected terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

How a handsome, likable young man who appeared to be at peace with the Western world could have gotten mixed up in mass murder is one of the many mysteries still shrouding the terrorist assaults.

Little, if anything, is known about the personal lives of most of the suspects. Of the 19, only alleged organizer Mohamed Atta and Jarrah left behind a long trail of acquaintances. But family and friends say the Ziad Jarrah they knew exhibited none of the smoldering political resentments or cultural conservatism of Atta.

Instead, they recall Jarrah as quiet, pampered, a little lazy and madly in love. How, they ask, do you convert a happy, intelligent young man with little religious or political conviction into a suicidal foot soldier in a holy war? With no answers, they are left to speculate that he was brainwashed or coerced.

For investigators, many circumstances point to the 26-year-old Lebanese being part of a plot to hijack the four jetliners. Jarrah studied in Hamburg, where two of the suspected leaders of the terror plot lived. He trained for a pilot's license in Florida just a few miles away from other sky pirates. He lost his passport two years ago, about the same time that two other Hamburg suspects did, leading investigators to believe they were trying to cleanse their travel documents of visas that might arouse suspicion.

There also are jarring details and gaps from his months in Florida that friends and relatives cannot explain. Why did he rent a cottage with one of the other suspected hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 in late summer? Why did he, like many of the other suspected hijackers, seek personal fitness training? And besides hijacking, what other reason could he have had to be on the flight from Newark to San Francisco, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field and killed all 44 passengers and crew?

Identified by Their 'Arabic' Names

Jarrah and the other three men named by the FBI as hijackers of the flight--Ahmed Ibrahim A. Al Haznawi, Ahmed Alnami and Saeed Alghamdi--initially came to be on the list of 19 because they "have been identified as having 'Arabic' names . . . on the UA93 manifest," according to the first FBI document alerting Hamburg police to their city's connection to the terrorist act, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

What prompted investigators' theory that Jarrah was at the controls has never been disclosed. The first publicly released list of the 19 suspects named by the FBI on Sept. 14 provides no other information about Jarrah except his name and the words "believed to be a pilot."

That list was released in Washington a day after Jarrah's girlfriend back in Germany, Aysel Senguen, reported him missing to police in the Ruhr River city of Bochum.

If they didn't know already, police probably would have learned from interrogating her that Jarrah, who had gone to the United States for pilot training the previous fall, had just earned his license, and that he had previously studied in Hamburg.

But German police and officials who are familiar with the investigation say that they have little to link Jarrah to the two other Sept. 11 suspects who lived in Hamburg at the same time, Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.

Federal prosecutor Kay Nehm disclosed the first hint of a connection only on Friday when he alluded to having a photo showing Jarrah at the 1999 wedding of a fugitive known to espouse fanatic views, Said Bahaji, who once roomed with Atta and Al-Shehhi.

Federal authorities in Germany have withdrawn assertions that Jarrah at one time lived at or frequented the Hamburg apartment rented by the three.

"He never lived with the others. He had three different apartments during his time in Hamburg, but none in common with any of the other suspects," a senior German official told The Times.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|