WASHINGTON (AP) _ A terrorist cell operating out of Hamburg, Germany, since at least 1999 included three of the hijackers and three accomplices who are being sought in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday.
Ashcroft said the three fugitives, Said Bahaji, Ramsi Binalshibh and Zakariya Essabar, are sought for planning the attacks. German authorities previously issued international arrests warrants for the three.
``Their connections to the hijackers are extensive,'' said Ashcroft, appearing at a news conference with German Interior Minister Otto Schily. He identified the three hijackers as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, the suspected pilots of the hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, and Ziad Jarrah, suspected of flying the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Ashcroft said the three hijackers were roommates in Hamburg while attending school there in the 1990s. He said Binalshibh and Atta started a Muslim prayer group in Hamburg and Essabar went to Florida in February at a time when both Atta and al-Shehhi were known to be there. And Essabar, Jarrah and al-Shehhi all appeared in a video of Bahaji's wedding, he said.
``It is clear that Hamburg served as a central base of operations for these six individuals and their part in the planning of the Sept. 11 attack,'' Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft said 12 FBI agents have been assigned to various locations in Germany to assist in the investigation.
Ashcroft also released copies of anthrax-contaminated letters mailed to NBC's Tom Brokaw and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, as well as the envelope used to mail another anthrax letter to the New York Post. But he said authorities don't have the evidence to link the anthrax letters to the Sept. 11 attacks.
``We must say we failed to see it'' beforehand, Schily, the German minister, said of the attacks on New York and Washington. ``But to be very open-minded'' about it, ``we altogether failed. ... We have to re-examine our security system.''
Schily said Monday that foreign exchange companies operating globally could have been used by terrorists. He would not name specific companies but urged money exchange firms to cooperate.
``I don't want to mention some names, but it also includes the role of some companies doing the exchange of money and delivering money. Maybe they are situated in the United States,'' said Schily, who oversees interior security in Germany, where several suspected hijackers lived and may have plotted the Sept. 11 hijackings. He was in Washington on Monday to meet with Bush administration officials.
A Saudi man who apparently holds a student pilot's license was arrested in Missouri on a bank fraud charge. The FBI has not tied Adel F. Badri to last month's attacks in which terrorists crashed airliners in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
In New Jersey a man detained following the attacks has been charged with lying to an FBI agent about checks he wrote and deposited into his bank account.
Mohammad Pervez lived with two other detainees, Mohammed Jaweed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan. Investigators have taken particular interest in those two men since they were detained in Fort Worth, Texas, the day after the attacks, carrying hair dye, about $5,000 in cash and box-cutting knives.
Pervez was accused of lying when he said he didn't know about certain checks and money orders that moved in and out of his bank account, according to an Oct. 16 complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New York City by the FBI.
Badri was charged with bank fraud for cashing allegedly forged checks worth $10,000, according to an FBI affidavit released by the Justice Department.
The checks were written on an account at Chevy Chase Bank in Maryland that had been closed. According to the FBI, the closed account's holder was Fatmah Ibrahim, a woman who Badri said lives in Virginia and works for a ``specific organization in Washington, D.C.'' Badri denied writing the check for himself.
Authorities tracked down the organization and found no record of the woman, and a forgery expert said Badri wrote the checks, the FBI said.
Badri deposited the checks on Oct. 4 and 5. By Oct. 11 various checks and debit card charges totaling more than $10,000 were incurred on his account, including a $603 debit card purchase of a US Airways plane ticket, more than $700 in cash withdrawals, a $20 car rental charge and $200 in payments for cellular phone service.
Federal Aviation Administration records show a person named Adel F. Badri was certified as a student pilot in the FAA's eastern region covering the District of Columbia and Maryland, Virginia and other Atlantic seaboard states.
Some of 19 alleged hijackers suspected of crashing four planes on Sept. 11 and killing more than 5,000 people had U.S. pilots' licenses or took flight lessons in the United States.
The FBI affidavit does not specify whether Badri had links to the attacks. The Justice Department's practice is to release court records about cases that come up in the terror investigation. A hearing will be held Tuesday in federal court in Kansas City.