Cows and goats graze in an open garbage dump surrounded by dusty high-rise buildings in Kubba, one of the poorer neighborhoods of Tripoli, a port city in northern Lebanon. On the seventh floor of the Madmun building in Kubba last Thursday, Shahid Hamad, a retired low-ranking officer in the Lebanese army, sat hunched over on the sofa in his living room.
"If my son is an extremist, I will kill myself," Hamad mumbles. A photograph of his 20-year-old son was shown on television a few hours earlier. It was a remarkably clear image that left no doubt that it was his son, Jihad Hamad, who, referred to in Germany as the second suitcase bomber, was being sought by police.
A short time later, a Lebanese security official appeared at Shahid Hamad's door and spoke with him. When the official left, Hamad called a family meeting in his living room, with its imitation French antiques, heavy curtains and walls decorated with verses from the Koran. He says now that he told his son to turn himself in, and that the two then went to a police station.
"We have a pure son," says Bushra Jaber, his mother, from behind her veil, as sits next to her husband. Jihad, she says, wrote poetry and was fascinated by languages and Germany, where he had gone to study computer engineering.
It was the dream of a child whose parents had put away €7,200 from the father's small military pension and then, in August of last year, had transferred the money to an account at Deutsche Bank as collateral to enable their son to obtain the student visa he needed to study abroad.
"Jihad didn't grow up on the street. We raised him with dignity and decency, and we sent him to a Christian school," his father says. "He cannot possibly be an extremist," his mother adds, sobbing.
The next day, the Lebanese interior ministry informed the world press that Hamad had made a partial confession and that he was the one who had taken the suitcases to the train station in Germany. According to the Lebanese statement, data was discovered on his computer that could tie him to al-Qaida.
Looking for a motive
But who in fact is Hamad? An Islamist who deliberately learned German at a language school in Tripoli so that he could enter the country as a student, essentially under the radar of counterterrorism officials, and calmly go about preparing an underhanded terrorist attack? Or did a young man, hungry for education, arrive in Germany on Jan. 2, 2006 and, for some unknown reason, suddenly and without attracting attention, turn into a killer?
By last Friday, investigators still hadn't found answers to these questions. But they did know that "assembly errors" were the only thing that prevented the explosion of the two bombs hidden in suitcases that Hamad and his presumed accomplice, Youssef Hajdib, now in custody at Berlin's Moabit prison, deposited in two regional trains at Cologne's main train station on July 31. As it turned out, a simple mistake protected Germany from what would presumably have been the worst terrorist attack in its history, one that would have claimed many dead and injured.
The front pages of last week's newspapers were plastered with frightening headlines like "Terror has Arrived!" and "Germany Targeted by Terrorists!" Media stories drew parallels between the thwarted attacks and the attacks on commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004 and the London bus and subway bombings in July 2005 -- attacks that claimed more than 243 lives and injured more than 2,000.
"We were lucky this time," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said when the second suspect was arrested, adding, "we couldn't have prevented it."
The arrest of Youssef Hajdib, 21, promptly set off a security debate over the consequences of the presumed change in the overall threat of terrorism in Germany. Legislators called for more surveillance cameras in public areas (although even London's dense network of such cameras failed to prevent the 2005 bombings in that city), beefing up the country's police forces and internal intelligence agency and speeding up a planned effort to link all security-related information to a central counterterrorism database. One member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, even proposed stationing armed "rail marshals" on German trains in the future.
But whatever Schäuble and his counterparts in the state governments decide at a conference of interior ministers scheduled for Monday, and whatever measures they take, the one thing that has investigators especially concerned is that would-be attackers may not necessarily be members of a local "domestic terrorist organization," but simply Muslim fanatics acting entirely on their own. This presumed new breed of independent terrorists, officials believe, appear out of nowhere and form miniature cells of their own. Instead of a network and commanders, all they need is a reason to strike, bomb-building instructions they can easily download from the Internet and the conviction that they are acting on behalf of a greater cause. In some sense, these self-made terrorists may also believe that they are part of al-Qaida, which has long since transformed itself from being only a terrorist organization, instead encompassing an entire ideology.
The new threat
Germany's internal intelligence service was already warning against this new type of terrorist back in July, when security experts were weighing possible terrorism scenarios in Europe related to the war between Hezbollah and Israel. These kinds of attackers are every investigator's nightmare, because they are able to operate under the radar of terrorist databases and the surveillance activities of the country's intelligence agencies. They are not members of a large group that can be observed or infiltrated with intelligence agents. Not having learned the terrorist trade in training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan, they persistently fall through the cracks whenever there is a large-scale crackdown. Finally, because they are self-funded and do not communicate with handlers elsewhere, they provide authorities with few leads to follow. Hamad and Hajdib could very well be precisely such nightmare candidates.
Of course, it didn't seem that way at first. After the attempted attacks, investigators quickly succeeded using classic counterterrorism tools, such as international intelligence cooperation and telephone surveillance. But only a few hours after surveillance videos of the suspects were aired on television, Hajdib, who lived in the northern German city of Kiel, managed to get away.
He had apparently grown nervous and, two Fridays ago, called his father, who lives in the Lebanese city of Tripoli and has long been under observation by Lebanese intelligence. Hajdib senior is a member of Hizb al-Tahrir, an organization banned in Germany since 2003 and under observation in Lebanon because of its extremist positions, which include calls for the destruction of Israel and open talk of a caliphate stretching from the Mediterranean to China.
The Lebanese agents were astonished to hear that the father was apparently in the picture and knew exactly what his son meant when he asked: "My picture is on TV, what should I do?" The father urged his son to "get out of Germany immediately."
Lebanese intelligence promptly picked up on what Youssef was telling his father and notified German authorities. Because Youssef had even told his father on the telephone that his plan was to flee to Scandinavia and that he would have to leave early in the morning, the Germans were quickly able to narrow down his possible travel options. At 3:53 a.m., German agents arrested the first of the two suitcase bombers at Kiel's main train station.
The investigators moved quickly over the next several days. They identified Hamad, searched his Cologne apartment, where they found and secured bomb-making materials and, in the west-central cities of Oberhausen and Essen, arrested two men suspected of having helped the suitcase bombers. In Kiel, officials arrested an acquaintance of Hajdib they suspected of providing logistical support to the cell and escorted him, still in his underwear, from his apartment in the middle of the day.
Some at the BKA felt that the arrests would enable them to investigate "typical network cases," or terrorists who already fit into existing terrorism structures and can depend on their help. But after hours of interrogation, the officials had to release the men for lack of sufficient evidence. They are now considered witnesses, not suspects.
The case of Faruq al-H., a Lebanese man, highlights the difficulties investigators run into when trying to sort out the facts. A car dealer in Essen, al-H. helped Hamad obtain a visa by inviting Hamad to visit him in Germany.
Faruq al-H. wasn't an unknown to investigators, who had already linked him to Islamist terrorism in the past when he obtained an apartment for the leader of al-Tawhid, a group affiliated with al-Qaida.
When called as a witness in the trial of four members of the group, which was accused of planning attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Germany, al-H. claimed it was all a coincidence. He testified that he had only wanted to do a favor for a friend of a friend. He made similar claims in the current Hamad case, telling investigators that he had only met Hamad once and then spoken with him on the phone once.
Hamad was also allegedly in contact with the former employer of the al-Tawhid leader, a piece of information that made investigators suspicious. "Nevertheless," says an investigator with Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), "we are skeptical over whether the two were involved in the plot. It's more likely that the relationship simply came about because they were from the same country."
Bernd Rosenkranz, a Hamburg lawyer who, together with an attorney in Kiel, represents Hajdib, claims that his client has "no connection whatsoever to a terrorist organization" and has filed a petition with federal chief prosecutor to have the allegation "formation of a domestic terrorist organization" (§129a of the German Criminal Code) removed from Hajdib's arrest warrant.
According to Rosenkranz, the evidence and assumptions cited in that warrant are exceedingly flimsy. They include traces of DNA from three different people found in the suitcases containing the explosives, as well as the assumption that the two suspects couldn't have managed the logistics, coordination and procurement of materials for the attempted attacks on their own.
Under German law, in order to prove that suspects are guilty of the offense of forming a terrorist organization prosecutors must demonstrate that three people are involved, and that they have collaborated for an extended period of time with the intent of launching attacks. The arrest of Fadi el-Saleh, a Syrian linked to Hajdib, last Friday at 8:15 a.m. in the southern German city of Konstanz could very well destroy Rosenkranz's argument.
Investigators believe Fadi may be the group's third member. He attended a university preparatory college in Kiel with Hajdib, and the two men prayed together in a basement prayer room at a dormitory there. If investigators can match Fadi's DNA to a previously unidentified sample found on a handkerchief in one of the suitcases, known simply as "Trace B," the information could very well make the government prosecutor's case.
Professionals or freelance terrorists?
Despite this series of clues, many investigators are still unconvinced that the plot was the work of a network of professional terrorists. The mistakes the two Lebanese men made were simply too glaring, they say.
Mistake 1: The supposed bombs were incapable of actually exploding. Although the devices were complexly made and cleanly executed -- based on instructions BKA experts found in a closed Internet chatroom -- the would-be bombers simply picked the wrong gas.
Mistake 2: They left behind an usual abundance of traces. In addition to traces of DNA, one of the suitcases contained a list of phone numbers, including a number that led directly to Youssef's father's mobile phone.
Mistake 3: They made no attempts to cover their tracks when they fled the country after the failed attack. In July, using their real passports, Youssef and Jihad flew to Istanbul on board Turkish Airlines flight TK 1672. From Istanbul, they flew Damascus and then traveled overland into Lebanon.
Investigators are also puzzled over why Hajdib returned to Germany only a week after the failed attack -- and why Hamad chose to hide out at his parents' apartment in Tripoli.
"Perhaps we should add a new compartment to our system of compartments," says one of the investigators. "That would be where we put the crazy, dilettantish hotheads who strike without warning, and who we might find, if we're lucky, on surveillance videos after the fact."
Experts agree that the Lebanese terror debutants didn't trigger any alarms before they were identified on surveillance tapes at the train station in Cologne. Nor did either of the two men raise any suspicions during the routine security check that was performed when they applied for visas. And no one seemed to notice that Hajdib, who had named the Technical University of Munich as the institution where he planned to study, ended up farther north, in Mülheim an der Ruhr, in the fall of 2004 -- at the invitation of and with a letter of recommendation from a Moroccan bus driver, who openly admitted to authorities that he didn't even know the young Lebanese man. The bus driver claimed he had only helped Hajdib as a favor to a friend.
And yet Hajdib was allowed to remain in Germany. Indeed, the immigration office in Mülheim innocently issued a provisional certificate meant to bridge the waiting period prior to issuance of a normal residence permit.
Six months later Hajdib showed up at the preparatory college in Kiel, citing an address in Hamburg -- Kleiner Pulverteich 17-21 -- on his application. The address is shared by the Islamic-Albanian Cultural Center, a residential dormitory for men and the Al-Nur Mosque, which domestic intelligence officials in Hamburg have long suspected of ties to Islamist activities.
"Inconspicuous and normal"
But the director of the preparatory college, Rainer Wurow-Radny, says he saw no evidence of Islamist leanings in Hajdib. According to Wurow-Radny, Hajdib, though religious, was otherwise "inconspicuous and normal." Nevertheless, fellow students say that Hajdib, in a heated debate over the Muhammad cartoons that were printed in a Danish newspaper, argued that violence against what he called the blasphemers would be justified. They also say that his behavior toward female instructors was condescending and contemptuous, and that he once called a German instructor who had given him a poor grade a racist and Muslim-hater.
But perhaps what is most disturbing is the fact that it's seen as normal when deeply religious, young Muslims perceive any criticism as a grave insult and openly display their aversion to the West and its way of life, and that this perception of normalcy is derived from the notion that there are many others like Hajdib and that no one wants to be called a racist.
The comments of an instructor who taught Hajdib illustrate this mindset. Although he concedes that the young Lebanese man was not a good student and had to repeat a semester, he also points out how courteous Arab students are and what an achievement it is for them to be able to cope in Western culture.
And yet that same instructor says: "What I cannot understand is this: We are so warm-hearted and accommodating to them, and yet deep inside they must hate us." Only his former physics teacher, Jürgen Müller, seems to understand the real issues. "For the first time in my career," he says, "I'm pleased that my efforts were not successful." He is referring, of course, to the idea that if Hajdib had been a more promising student he could well have built a better bomb and killed many people.
German educators face a true dilemma. More than 10,000 students of Arab origin are registered at German universities. If each remotely radical profession of Islam were perceived as a reason to contact domestic intelligence, says one instructor, "we would constantly be on the telephone."
But how can we detect when someone has crossed the threshold, when a peaceful protestor has fallen prey to the fascination of terrorism? On Feb. 10, at the height of the cartoon controversy, Hajdib took part in a demonstration in Kiel. The stated goal of the protest march was to strive for "reconciliation of the cultures." Hajdib marched next to a protestor who used a megaphone to bring his point across. When the march ended, the protestor shook hands with the police officers assigned to accompany the event. Should domestic intelligence have been paying closer attention?
Investigators are still puzzled over who or what generated enough hatred in Hajdib and Hamad to convince them that killing others was the solution. It couldn't have been the death of Hajdib's brother, killed July 17 in an Israeli attack on the Tripoli harbor. BKA agents found receipts in his accomplice Hamad's Cologne apartment proving that the gas bottles used in the attempted bombing were purchased on July 4 and filled three days later.
The fighting in Lebanon also couldn't have prompted the attack, since it only began on July 12. Aside from the Hajdib family's ties to Islamic extremism, the only other clue for investigators is the Konstanz connection. Hajdib was allegedly in contact with the Syrian man arrested there on Friday. Was he the one who gave the two suspects their instructions?
How and where Hajdib and Hamad met is also unclear. Although both men completed their first German language courses at the "Al-Afak Center for the German Language" in Tripoli, they were two years apart. It seems more likely that their paths crossed in Germany.
In any event, they already knew each other by the beginning of the year, when they showed up together in the office of the director of the Kiel preparatory college, Rainer Wurow-Radny. He remembers that Hajdib brought Hamad "along with him and introduced him as his friend," who he said also wanted to study in Kiel.
Hamad applied and then passed the entrance examination on June 6. He could have enrolled in classes scheduled to begin on Aug. 19, but he apparently changed his mind. Although he was granted a student residence permit on June 22 that allowed him to remain in the country until the end of August 2008, he told residency registration authorities in Cologne on July 11 that he planned to de-register, citing "departure abroad" as his reason. Three weeks later he boarded a train, towing a suitcase filled with explosives.
By GUNTHER LATSCH, GUIDO KLEINHUBBERT,CORDULA MEYER, HOLGER STARK, DANIEL STEINVORTH, ANDREAS ULRICH, MARC WIDMANN
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan