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The Hamburg Cell
A Mentorn Television Production, produced in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - 2004
TX : 2nd September 2004

Synopsis :
The first major television dramatisation of the events leading up to the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The programme tells the extraordinary story of the students-turned-terrorists, from their initial meetings and recruitment to al-Qaeda in Hamburg until the devastating 9/11 atrocities.

Notes :
Antonia Bird previously directed the films Ravenous, Face and Priest as well as the television dramas Rehab, Care and Safe. She also worked on Inspector Morse, Casualty and Eastenders earlier in her career.

The production acheived a viewing figure of 1.9 million.

Writer Ronan Bennett also wrote the GM crop drama Fields of Gold and Love Lies Bleeding for the BBC.

Alexander Siddig played Dr Bashir in all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine.

Karim Saleh appeared in the Sea of Souls episode Mind Over Matter.

Stephan Kalipha was in the films Ali G Indahouse, Superman III, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as the television series Tales of the Unexpected, Dempsey and Makepeace, Prime Suspect II, The Professionals, Ace of Wands and Callan.

Publicity : Here's a difficult one: a dramatisation: based on known facts and actual events" seen entirely from the perspective of the suicide bombers responsible for the 11 September atrocities.

As you'd expect from a writer as skilled as Ronan Bennett, and a director of Antonia Bird's calibre, it's both thoughtful and provoking. But The Hamburg Cell is also a very even-handed account of an outrage that murdered nigh on 3000 people on a single day, which is where problems may lie, as it could be too dispassionate for some tastes. The story focuses quite tightly on two of the highjackers - Ziad Jarrah, who was at the controls of the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field, and Mohammed Atta, who flew the first plane into the World Trade Centre. The men were at the core of the Hamburg cell of the title, planning and training for the devastating hijackings.

In an understated way - and in dramatic terms - The Hamburg Cell is effective. But you may feel that such an exploration, coming just three years after events that are still raw for those who lost loved ones, is imply too soon. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Characters
Portrayed By
Ziad Jarrah
Karim Saleh
Mohammed Atta
Kamel
Aysel
Agni Tsangaridou
Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Omar Berdouni
Marwan Shehhi
Adnan Maral
Said Bahaji
Ben Lourdjane
Bashar Musleh
Ziad Adwan
Zammar
Stephan Kalipha
Makhadi
Kammy Darweish
Nawaf al-Hazmi
Abbas Kazerooni
Yasser
Bassem Breish
Shahid
Fahri Ogun Yardim
Salim
Navid Akhavan
Abdul Aziz Alomari
Khalid Laith
Khalid al-Mihdhar
Omar Mostafa
Zacarias Moussaoui
Tamer Doghem
Hani Hanjour
Rami Sibai
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Alexander Siddig
Assem
Nasser Memarzia
Bouthayna
Badia Obaid
Lothar Kessel
Patrick Dreikhauss
Catalano
Michael Samuels
Mohammed el-Amir
Ahmed Khalil
Light aircraft instructor
John Early
INS Officer Miami
Jeff Caster
Check-in attendant
Michelle Crosby-Jones
Clerk
Joanna E. O' Neil
FBI Agent # 2
Joel Kirby
INS Agent Minnesota
Peter Russell
FBI legal counsel
Ralph Fellows
Pan Am instructor
Clayton Nemrow
Flight simulator instructor
Marc Clifton
INS Officer Miami
Peter Gilbert Cotton
Said al-Ghamdi
Omar el-Saidi
Ahmad al-Nami
Farhad Ali
Ahmed al-Haznawi
Abdullah Daglioglu
Mohand Shehri
Nabil Elbakali
Salam al-Suqami
Labi Piro
Wal al-Shehri
Ahmad Zarbi
Waleed al-Shehri
Borzo Partovi
Ahmed al-Shehri
Khasayar Khoshniataram
Fayez Ahmad
Akbar Mohabat

Written by Ronan Bennett and Alice Perman. The director was Antonia Bird and the producer was Finola Dwyer.


The Hamburg Cell
was a brave attempt at telling the story behind the people behind the attacks that took place in the USA on 11 September 2001. Coming only three years after the attacks, the drama is based on intensively and detailed research, with co-writer Alice Perman having done the majority of the background study. Taking two years to craft, the scriptwriters elected to base the drama only on established and actual fact, rather than what is usually common for drama based on true events and embellish fact with dramatic licence.

Rather than being a purely sensationalist piece of work, the writers and director Antonia Bird take the audience on the journey made by the group of muslims who carried out the attacks, and one of the terrorists in particular: Ziad Jarrah. We see how Jarrah goes from respectable, middle-class university student, to being the pilot at the controls of the hijacked plane that failed to hit its target on that fateful day. Karim Saleh is particularly good as Jarrah, and excels in scenes where his 'normal' life in Germany is conflicting with his burgeoning interest in radical Islam.

Despite being no stranger to controversy, Antonia Bird ensures that in this case the subject matter is sensitively dealt with. The fact that little in the way of complaint or controversy seemed to appear following its broadcast appears to indicate that the aims that the filmmakers had when planning the story were successfully achieved.

Text © Chris Orton, 2004.