Security services say they believe the Taiba mosque served as a recruiting arm for groups linked to armed Islamist movements.
“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 Frank Reschreiter, a spokesman for the Hamburg state Interior Ministry.
He said 20 police officers were searching the building and had confiscated material, including several computers.
The homes of leading members of the cultural association were also searched and the group’s assets were confiscated, Hamburg’s state government said in a statement. There were no arrests.
Christoph Ahlhaus, the interior minister of Hamburg, told a news conference that the mosque was a meeting point for jihadists and helped funnel recruits – many of them German converts of Middle Eastern origin or from the Caucasus region – to armed Islamist groups fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
German security services have monitored the Taiba mosque – formerly called al-Quds mosque – since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because it was used by several hijackers, including cell leader Mohammed Atta.
Manfred Murck, deputy head of the local branch of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, said the mosque “has been supporting terrorism for years.” This is the first time the mosque has been closed.
Police cordoned off the mosque, and Ahlhaus said the cultural association affiliated with the mosque was declared a “banned organization.”
The local Interior Ministry said about 45 supporters of jihad live in the Hamburg area, and about 200 people regularly attend Friday prayers at the Taiba mosque.
The ministry also said that over the years, the mosque became a magnet for so-called jihad tourists – Muslims from out of town who bragged about having worshipped at the same mosque where the Sept. 11 terrorists once gathered for prayer.
A 2009 report by the Hamburg branch of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said the mosque had again become the “center of attraction for the jihad scene” in the northern port city.
The banned group’s home page on the Web had been taken down by Monday, and it was not possible to reach any members directly.
The current imam is Mamoun Darkazanli, who was questioned after the 2001 attacks when it emerged that he moved in some of the same circles as the hijackers. Darkazanli, a dual citizen of Germany and Syria, denied any links to Osama bin Laden or the attacks.
In October 2004, he was arrested in Hamburg on a Spanish warrant accusing him of involvement with al-Qaida, and alleging that he was a bin Laden financier.
His extradition was blocked by Germany’s high court, and he was eventually released. In 2006, German prosecutors closed their own investigation of him, saying there was insufficient evidence to show that Darkazanli supported al-Qaida.
“He is a hate preacher,” the head of the Hamburg anti-terrorism department, Lothar Bergmann, said at a news conference, the German news agency DAPD reported. Murck, the intelligence official, called Darkazanli an “elder statesman of jihad.”
The Hamburg Interior Ministry said a group of 11 militants who had traveled to military training camps in Uzbekistan in March 2009 was formed at Taiba mosque.
The ministry said Monday that “the training courses, sermons and seminars by the association as well as texts published on the group’s home page not only violate the constitution, but also radicalize listeners and readers.”
A spokesman for an association of 30 mosques in Hamburg condemned the authorities’ closure of Taiba mosque.
“I think this was a wrong move,” Norbert Mueller of the Schura Association of Islamic Communities in Hamburg told The Associated Press. “Closing mosques does not make jihadists disappear.”
The radical supporters of Taiba had been isolated among Hamburg’s Muslim community, Mueller said. He warned that they would now try to infiltrate other Muslim groups in the city.
“At least it was easy to keep them under surveillance as long as they all met at Taiba,” Mueller said.