NEW YORK - Mohamed Atta, suspected leader of the 19-man jetliner hijacking squad on Sept. 11, trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan from late 1999 and early 2000 along with two other hijackers, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
While there have been previous reports that Atta and other Sept. 11 conspirators had trained in Afghanistan, the Times said it had obtained "the first official confirmation" that Atta and two other conspirators had trained in Afghanistan, as well as the dates on which the training had taken place.
Citing German investigators, the paper also said German federal officials had made a direct link between the al Qaeda Islamic extremist network and an April attack on a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia that killed 21 people.
Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad al-Jarrah, who like Atta once lived in Hamburg, Germany, and who were on hijacked aircraft on Sept. 11, also trained in Afghanistan, the paper said. The article listed two other men who had trained there, Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who disappeared before the attacks and have been charged by German officials as accomplices.
"According to our knowledge, Atta traveled to Afghanistan for some months in 1999 until early 2000," said Klaus Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany's federal anticrime agency, in an interview at the agency's headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany.
"Whether he had been there before, we do not know. We know that Jarrah, Shehhi, bin al Shibh and Bahaji were also in Afghanistan in the same time period, but we do not know if they were together," Kersten was quoted as saying.
Atta, al-Shehhi and al-Jarra came to the U.S. in June 2000 and took flying lessons at Florida flight schools.
Atta and al-Shehhi are suspected to have piloted the two jetliners that slammed into each of the World Trade Center towers in New York. Al-Jarrah is thought to have been at the controls of the aircraft that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.