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It took nearly nine years, but Germany has finally closed the doors of the Hamburg prayer house that had been one of the incubators of the 9/11 attacks. The German press roundly approved the crackdown on the Taiba mosque, which had continued to function as a magnet for Islamic radicals, as long overdue.
Top News: In the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Germany played a small but important role — one most Germans remain acutely aware of. It was in the northern port city of Hamburg where the terrorist attacks’ mastermind, the Egyptian-born Mohamed Atta, a university student at the time, became radicalized and committed to jihad. Atta and a circle of fellow radical Islamists, several directly involved in World Trade Center attack, met, studied, and networked with Al Qaeda operatives at the al-Quds mosque, a prayer house in downtown Hamburg.
The fact that German authorities only shut down the mosque — which had been re-named the Taiba mosque — on Aug. 9, and banned the cultural organization behind it, speaks for the difficulties Germany has faced in confronting radical Islam.
Most observers felt that the mosque’s closure was long overdue and that the legal difficulties that prevented its shut-down reflected Germany’s ineffective, conflicted approach to counterterrorism in general. It had even become a symbol, noted German media, of Germany’s complete inability to tackle the problem.
The closure revealed that jihadist were still active in Germany, even at a site as high profile as the Taibia mosque.
"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 a spokesman for Hamburg's state interior ministry. A 2009 German intelligence report noted that the Taiba was once again a "center of attraction for the jihad scene."
Militant members of the prayer house and its benefactor foundation even traveled to Islamist training camps in Uzbekistan in March 2009. Others headed off to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. The intelligence agency report concluded: "A very important factor for the radicalization of the group members was certainly their joint visits to the mosque." Their continued use of the premises was apparently no secret; local residents had even begun informal surveillance activities on their own, independent of the authorities.
The closure and ban received mostly praise in the German media. Some outlets had been critical of Germany’s weak counterterrorism policies, for which the open doors of the Taiba mosque were only the most flagrant example.
"What do violent Islamists have to do in this country to arouse enough suspicion to have their activities banned?” wrote the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “A lot had to happen in Hamburg before the mosque where the Hamburg cell of the 9/11 suicide pilots drew their ideological weaponry was finally shut down. The imam at whose feet Mohammed Atta and his comrades once sat was still delivering his hate sermons here.”
Yet the crackdown doesn’t signal a whole new approach and strategy to combat Islamic extremism in Germany. "What Germany lacks is a comprehensive de-radicalization strategy that doesn't confine itself to banning individual meeting places like the Taiba mosque,” argued author Wolf Schmidt in the left-leaning Tageszeitung. “Britain is more advanced in this respect. Former radical preachers who have credibly renounced violence are talking to youths deemed in danger of succumbing to extremism. Why isn't that happening here?"
Hamburg’s highest security official, Christoph Ahlhaus, bent over backwards to emphasize that the closure was not aimed at Germany’s five million Muslims, just the extremists. He underscored that the majority of Germany’s Muslims are “peaceful and law-abiding.”
Money: Germany was not alone among EU member states in pouring cold water over the proposal for a new EU direct tax system. The finance ministry in Berlin says it has, and will continue to, oppose an EU tax that would flow directly into the EU budget.
Germany’s position is consistent with its harder line of bankrolling the union, as it has in the past. As usual, the mass circulation daily Bild-Zeitung led the charge: “Instead of new revenue sources, the EU needs structural reform for its expenditures! For example, why does Brussels need a separate foreign service, with some 2,000 employees? An EU tax? No thanks!"
Elsewhere: There seems no end to the dog days of summer in Germany — or the bad news coming out of the western, industrial city of Duisburg, where the annual, techno-inspired Love Parade ended in disaster, with 21 people trampled to death.
A new report on the tragedy claims that the highest city officials had been aware that event security was deficient. Yet they pushed it through, presumably concerned about the loss of revenue should the parade be cancelled.