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Context of 'Spring 2003 and After: Spanish Police Increase Surveillance of Madrid Bombers'

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The Spanish intelligence agency CESID (later renamed CNI) frustrates the arrest of a senior member of al-Qaeda in Europe, Amer el-Azizi, by Spanish police. Most members of the cell of which el-Azizi was a member were arrested shortly before, but el-Azizi had avoided the round-up by fleeing abroad (see October 2001). After returning to Spain, he again falls under police surveillance, but, according to Spanish police union head Jose Manuel Sanchez Fornet, his arrest is prevented by “interference” from CESID. Fornet will later say that a police recording made at this time shows two CESID agents going to el-Azizi’s house. This alerts el-Azizi that he is under surveillance and he flees his home. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/29/2004] El-Azizi then remains in Spain for some weeks, selling his car to an associate. When his apartment is searched, police find more than a dozen bags with radical Islamic books and videos. They also find videos of bin Laden on his computer and pamphlets from groups like Hamas. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] El-Azizi was arrested and released twice before (see October 10, 2000). He helped plan a meeting for Mohamed Atta just before 9/11 (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001), and will go on to be involved in the Madrid train bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Amer el-Azizi, Jose Manuel Sanchez Fornet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Beginning on January 17, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Moutaz owns it but lives in London, so Mouhannad is the landlord and works there every day as well. Police were tipped off about the house earlier in the month by Mouhannad’s estranged wife. She revealed that a group of Islamist militants are regularly meeting there (see January 4, 2003). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Both Almallah brothers ties to known al-Qaeda figures such as Barakat Yarkas and radical imam Abu Qatada, and Moutaz moved to London in August 2002 to live with Qatada (see August 2002). In 2007, an unnamed Spanish police officer testifying in the Madrid bombings trial will give details about the surveillance of the apartment. He will call it an important place for both meetings and recruitment. The police note that both brothers travel frequently to and from London and also regularly call London. These calls are usually followed by calls to the Middle East or North Africa. Police are aware that Moutaz has no job in London and is in the circle of people around Abu Qatada (although Abu Qatada himself was arrested in late 2002 see (see October 23, 2002)). Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit live at the apartment and frequently meet there with Mouhannad Almallah and Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] Ghalyoun will later admit that in early 2003, Fakhet began to “talk of carrying out an attack in Spain, making jihad…” He will say that others attending jihad meetings at the apartment in 2003 include Arish Rifaat and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/15/2005] Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam is also frequently seen there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] The surveillance intensifies in subsequent months, and soon the apartment is monitored with video as well (see Spring 2003 and After). Police will keep watching the apartment until arrests are made after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Rifaat, Fakret, and others will allegedly blow themselves up shortly after the Madrid bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations Fakret was an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Mouhannad Almallah, Ghalyoun, ben Sellam, and el Morabit will be convicted in 2007 and each sentenced to 12 years for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Ahmed will be convicted of different charges in Italy (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, when the apartment is raided shortly after the Madrid bombings, two documents belonging to police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji will be found inside. Kalaji will admit to having a friendship with Moutaz Almallah dating back at least to 1995 (see May 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mouhannad Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Basel Ghalyoun, Abu Qatada, Fouad el Morabit, Barakat Yarkas, Arish Rifaat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Spanish police have been monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah since January 17, 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police are now aware that the Almallah brothers are part of a group of Islamist militants regularly meeting there. On March 3, police extend the surveillance to the apartment of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, since he appears to be a leader of the group and the group holds meetings at his apartment as well (see March 3, 2003-March 2004). On March 14, police also start monitoring Mouhannad Almallah’s apartment (his brother Moutaz is mostly living in London) (see March 14, 2003). Over the next months, the surveillance of this group is intensified:
bullet Police also keep a very close eye on the cars used by the militants. Police witness many of them taking evasive maneuvers while driving around town.
bullet They notice the militants are taking evasive action such as frequently using pay phones and speaking in code, which are signs they are taking part in illegal activities.
bullet They discover that Amer el-Azizi, a Spanish al-Qaeda operative wanted for a role in the 9/11 attacks, had probably escaped to Afghanistan in late 2001 using Mouhannad Almallah’s passport (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
bullet They find that Fakhet sometimes uses a car owned by relatives of Jamal Ahmidan (Ahmidan is the member of the group who will later lead the effort to buy the explosives for the Madrid bombings, see September 2003-February 2004).
bullet One police report before the bombings says that all three apartments are “regarded as essential points of the logistical network to support the recruitment of ‘mujaheddin’” in Spain and that Moutaz Almallah makes the group an international threat, with links in Britain and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Jamal Ahmidan, Mouhannad Almallah, Moutaz Almallah, Amer el-Azizi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Beginning on March 3, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring the apartment where Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet lives. He will later be considered one of around three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid bombings. Fakhet’s apartment is on Francisco Remiro street in Madrid. Police discovered his apartment after monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street where Fakhet and other Islamist militants regularly meet (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police discover that the militants sometimes hold meetings at Fakhet’s apartment as well. They identify 16 militants who meet there. They notice that Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, frequently sleeps on the floor there. Maymouni is arrested in Morocco later in 2003 for a role in the Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003). Monitoring of his house apparently continues through the date of the Madrid bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mustapha Maymouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On March 14, 2003, Spanish police begin intensively monitoring Islamist militant Mouhannad Almallah. They locate his house on Quimicos street in Madrid and begin monitoring it too. They notice that his brother Moutaz is frequently traveling back and forth between Madrid and London. Police also apparently begin videotaping the house, although details on that are unclear. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Mouhannad had been a suspect since 1998, and Moutaz since 1995, and both had already been monitored to some degree (see November 1995). Both were linked to the al-Qaeda cell originally run by Barakat Yarkas. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] Surveillance on Mouhannad increased after police linked him to a group of militants meeting at the Virgen de Coro apartment owned and frequented by him and his brother (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). The police will continue to monitor him until the Madrid bombings. He will later get 12 years for his role in those bombings (see October 31, 2007).

Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Mouhannad Almallah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jamal Ahmidan.Jamal Ahmidan. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” has a long history of drug dealing in Spain. In 2000, he returned to his home country of Morocco and was arrested on murder charges there. In July 2003, he is released and returns to Spain. He continues to deal drugs, but he allegedly became a radical Islamist while in prison as well. He soon meets Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, the leader of a group of Islamist militants in Madrid, and joins their group. But the group is being heavily monitored and soon Ahmidan is being monitored as well. For instance, Spanish police notice that Fakhet sometimes uses a car owned by Ahmidan’s relatives (see Spring 2003 and After). The wife of one of the militants also informs for the police and reports on Ahmidan (see January 4, 2003). Ahmidan will prove to be the key link between the militants and a group of drug dealers (who are mostly also government informants) that supply the explosives enabling the militants to conduct the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [El Pais (Spain), 3/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Jamal Ahmidan, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Carmen Toro.Carmen Toro. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]In September 2003, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Rafa Zouhier, Antonio Toro, his wife Carmen Toro, Rachid Aglif, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), and Mohammed Oulad Akcha meet at a McDonald’s restaurant in Madrid. The first five people are linked to a mine in the Asturias region of Spain and have no Islamist militant background. Ahmidan and Akcha are members of a group of Islamist militants and are meeting the others to buy explosives stolen from the mine. Ahmidan goes to Asturias at least five times from December 2003 to February 2004 to work out the explosives deal. He, Akcha, and others in their militant group will then use the explosives in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Interestingly, at least four of the five—Trashorras, Zouhier, and both Toros—are government informants at the time. Supposedly, none of them tell their handlers about this explosives deal. [El Mundo (Madrid), 6/10/2004] However, Zouhier will later claim that he repeatedly told his handler about the deal. He will say: “I told them. I mentioned all the suspicions I had regarding the explosives. In 2003 I warned that ‘these people want to sell 150 kilos’. I told them 1,000 times.” [Agence France-Presse, 2/28/2007] His handler, known by the alias Victor, will initially dispute this, but in 2007 he will finally admit that Zouhier did tell him in March 2003 that Trashorras and Antonio Toro were dealing in stolen explosives and had 150 kilograms of explosives ready to sell. Zouhier even passed on that they asked him about using cell phones as detonating devices. Police then began monitoring Trashorras and Toro (see March 2003). Trashorras, Zouhier, and Aglif will eventually be sentenced to various prison terms, while the Toros will be acquitted. Trashorras will get life in prison (see October 31, 2007).

Entity Tags: Rachid Aglif, Rafa Zouhier, Jamal Ahmidan, Carmen Toro, Antonio Toro, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Mohammed Oulad Akcha

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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