Testimony Offers Intimate Look at a Sept. 11 Hijacker’s Life

Special to The Times

The trial of Mounir Motassadeq, a Moroccan man accused of assisting the Sept. 11 hijackers, has produced occasional glimpses into the inner workings of the terrorist plot -- when the hijackers trained, where they met and how -- but the mechanical details have been few.

This week, the testimony of a 28-year-old newly certified physician named Aysel Senguen brought the sharpest reminder yet that the men, who have often been portrayed as steely eyed assassins, were in many respects quite normal.

Senguen was the longtime girlfriend of alleged suicide-pilot Ziad Jarrah. Jarrah is thought to have piloted United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pa.


On the stand, Senguen told the story of two young students in the eastern German town of Greifswald, meeting, and falling in and out of love so many times she couldn’t count them.

“We had problems since the beginning,” she said.

They hid the relationship from her strict Turkish parents. They had to live apart when they chose fields of study that Greifswald couldn’t accommodate. And Jarrah, whom friends and relatives have often described as the most free-spirited and secular of the hijackers, grew increasingly religious, even demanding at one point that Senguen begin covering herself as traditional Muslim women do. She refused, and the problems always dimmed, replaced by talk of careers and children and a life together.

In total, Senguen and Jarrah were a couple for five years. They met in Greifswald in 1996.

Jarrah started to change after he moved to Hamburg to continue his studies in 1997, Senguen said. That’s when he urged her to veil herself in public. “But he was never pushing me. He was patient,” she said.

She said his radicalization peaked in the summer of 1999.

“He was not feeling well -- emotionally. He thought his studies were too dry, he had no orientation in life, and we had broken up again,” Senguen said. Their different opinions about religion were often a reason for their arguments, she said.

In late 1999, Jarrah disappeared. Senguen suspected he had gone to Chechnya to fight alongside the Islamic separatists. He had mentioned that he thought the war in Chechnya was unfair, and he sometimes talked about the jihad, or holy war, saying that it was a struggle for freedom.

“He had changed. He was withdrawn. That scared me,” Senguen said.

In late January 2000, Senguen received a letter from Jarrah. “I thought, it was the message, that he had fallen, that he would never come back,” Senguen said. But Jarrah had written to say he would be back soon, not revealing his whereabouts. Senguen said the letter had a postmark from Yemen.

Jarrah, it turns out, had been training at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

“Suddenly, in late February, he was back,” she said. “He brought traditional skirts from Pakistan and jewelry from the United [Arab] Emirates.”

Jarrah told Senguen it “would be better for me not to know where he had been to,” she said. Afterward, Jarrah lived with her in a small town near Stuttgart, where Senguen had moved to finish her medical studies.

“Back then, he told me that he decided to become a pilot. He had told me since we knew each other that he would love to be a pilot. Already as a child, he drew planes,” she said.

They looked for a flight school in Germany or Turkey, unsuccessfully. They made plans -- Senguen working as a doctor, Jarrah as a pilot for Turkish Airlines, having children. Finally, Jarrah told Senguen that he had found a school in Florida.

“I was angry that he wanted to leave again. I had a hard time when he was gone for so long before,” she said. Before he left in June 2000, Jarrah promised Senguen he would be back in less than six months. He wasn’t. Jarrah visited her several times in Germany, the last time in January 2001. He told her repeatedly he had to return for more training.

Senguen said that she visited Jarrah in the U.S. and he flew her to Key West in a small plane. She was also with him when he rented a Boeing flight simulator in Miami in early 2001. Jarrah had urged her not to tell anyone he was in the U.S.

“But I did,” she said. “I often didn’t do what he told me.”

Senguen saw Jarrah for the last time in July 2001 in Germany. He told her again he would return soon and they could marry and start their family. He e-mailed and telephoned her almost every day.

On Sept. 11, about noon, German time, Jarrah made his last call. They didn’t talk long.

“He said three times, ‘I love you.’ When I asked, ‘What’s up?’ he just answered, ‘I love you.’ Then he hung up,” Senguen said.

She didn’t know it, but minutes later Jarrah boarded Flight 93, ending whatever dreams they had together.

Senguen reported Jarrah missing on Sept. 13, still with some faint hope that it wasn’t really him on the plane.

Two months later, the German federal police gave her a copy of a letter. It was from Jarrah.

He wrote: “The very first thing I want you to believe and always believe, [is] that I deeply love you .... It’s my mistake, to make you hope that we [would] marry one day and have children .... I did not run away from you, I did what I had to do, you should be proud