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Around the world, lives changed by 9/11


September 5, 2003

NEW YORK — There is before, and there is after. The dividing line is September 11, 2001, the day the United States suffered the world's worst terrorist attack. But not only Americans felt the reverberations.

People around the world -members of history's supporting cast - saw their lives changed that day. These are some of their stories:

Before: Ruediger Bendlin was a marketing director. He worked in the image business, making sure the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg looked good.

After: He has the same job, goes to work each day. But the man Ruediger Bendlin was - the "foundation," he calls it - has been shaken. His faith in people is diminished, perhaps even dissipated.

Mohammed Atta and another of the Sept. 11 hijackers attended Bendlin's school, as did several other members of Hamburg's al-Qaida cell. When the news broke, Bendlin was the point man for public statements. It was chaos, and he had to take all comers.

He tried, with his colleagues, to figure out whether there had been signs that they had missed, whether there was something they should have done.

Locals began calling his school "Terrorist University." When Bendlin took the subway, he thought everyone was looking at him.

Were they blaming him? It started to eat into his job; suddenly, the public-relations man didn't have much enthusiasm for the public.

The worst part: his dealings with Mounir el Motassadeq, a Moroccan student convicted in of providing logistical support to Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and other members of Hamburg's al-Qaida cell.

Days weeks after Sept. 11, el Motassadeq asked Bendlin for help dealing with the press. Bendlin obliged. El Motassadeq later confessed to training with the hijackers in Osama bin Laden's camps.

Today, Bendlin is damaged, left with echoes of distrust for foreign students - something he acknowledges is irrational. He realized it in May when he went to an annual spring party for non-German students; almost immediately, he had to turn around and leave.

"It was just too much," said Bendlin, 41, sitting in his office a minute's walk from where Atta defended his thesis. "It has nothing to do with the individuals. It was something in me, inside."

Odds are you've never heard of Aicha el-Wafi. Perhaps her former husband's surname is more familiar: Moussaoui.

El-Wafi's son, Zacarias Moussaoui, is the only person charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. And across the ocean from her offspring, in an ivy-covered stucco house along the Mediterranean Sea in southern France, the Moroccan-born el-Wafi contemplates her life and awaits news about what she calls "the problem with my son."

"All these dreams, washed up," she says. "The days for making plans are over."

One of el-Wafi's daughters brought news of her new life. She called to say Zacarias' picture was flashing on the television.

El-Wafi hadn't seen him since 1997.

"Tell me it's not true," she said to herself, pacing around the house, looking at a picture from the time when he was a smiling teenager.

"The sky fell down on me," she says now, fighting her tears.

In a living-room cabinet, cast in plaster, is an echo - a model of Zacarias Moussaoui's childhood hand. His mother pulls it out, cradles it, kisses it.

"It's so small," Aicha el-Wafi says, and then wonders about the real hand of her real son, so far away and in so much trouble. "I'm afraid of never touching it again, of never kissing it again."

The United States of America: Mohammad Sohaeb Irfan Siddiqui is kept from it. David Lee turned his back on it.

When Siddiqui flew from his adopted country, Mexico, to his native Pakistan, he made a habit of traveling through the United States. The flights are more direct that way. He'd go to the U.S.

Embassy in Mexico City, get a transit visa and that was that.

Today, that is no longer that.

His family's restaurant in Polanco, an upscale Mexico City neighborhood, draws frequent visits from American Embassy staff who come for the naan and mattar paneer. They helped him get his five-year transit visa, which expired in 1999.

Last year, Siddiqui wanted to return to Karachi to visit his father. He made an appointment for a new transit visa.

Before, the hassles were few. This time, he was taken to a room with no other people, fingerprinted, grilled repeatedly about the purpose of his visit to Pakistan and asked to fork over $80 for a background check.

"I was so nervous," he said. "It was like Osama bin Laden himself had arrived. ... I felt like a suspect in front of a superpower."

Lee, a 20-year-old college student, tells a different story. He was preparing to transfer from Malaysia's Inti College to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana - a college town in a country he had never visited.

Then the towers fell, and Lee decided America wasn't for him.

Too dangerous.

"My father said it might not be so safe to go, in case there might be more terrorist attacks," Lee said.

Though those fears subsided, Lee feared the same tightened regulations that stood in Siddiqui's way - the list of countries, including Pakistan and Malaysia, that were undergoing special scrutiny. But instead of ensnarling himself in them, Lee turned away.

Now he plans to transfer to the University of Adelaide in Australia.

And Siddiqui? As of late last month, he still hadn't heard about his visa. He finally bought tickets for a flight that stopped in Madrid, Rome, Dubai and finally Karachi. It took two days and cost $500 more.

The U.S. Embassy, he's told, may be calling soon to tell him he has a visa. But Mohammad Sohaeb Irfan Siddiqui doesn't need America anymore.

Somewhere in southern Thailand, in a town called Nakhon Sri Thammarat, a connection was made between two young women who never met and never will. On both sides of it lies tragedy.

Dendau Jongjitr, 19, grew up poor and is scrabbling by, struggling financially to become a nurse. Abandoned by her parents, she spent her childhood drinking gathered rainwater. In the past year, she has lost both grandparents who raised her and her 27-year-old stepsister as well.

Dead, too, is another of the daughters of Nakhon, Saranya Srinuan. She was born in New York City and met her end there too, working as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald high in the World Trade Center when the airplanes hit on Sept. 11, 2001.

But her father came from Nakhon, and she spent a year of her childhood there. Last year, her parents, who live in New York, set up the scholarship in her memory so someone in Nakhon could benefit from their loss.

Now Dendau has an unimaginable 10,000 baht - about $240 - each year to help her live and study.

"I thought Saranya was an old woman who died, so her children established this scholarship for her," Dendau says. "I knew there were Thais who died in the World Trade Center, but I didn't know who they were."

Dendau Jongjitr, whose name means "shining star," has a better chance to shine herself now thanks to Saranya Srinuan, who died in an inferno a world away at age 23.

"I know about her life now," Dendau says. "Even though she has died, we've met." –Sapa-AP


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