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Context of 'Evening, March 4, 2004: Witness Query Suggests Spanish Authorities Have Some Awareness of Explosives Deal'

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Jamal Ahmidan is a member of the Islamist militant cell who has arranged to buy the explosives for the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He is also a drug dealer, and is purchasing the explosives from Emilio Suarez Trashorras and some others who are generally both drug dealers and government informants. His phone is being monitored by Spanish intelligence. On February 28, he calls Othman El Gnaoui, another member of the militant cell, and says that he will need a van to transport something. The next day, Ahmidan is in the Spanish region of Asturias to help pick up the over 100 kilograms of explosives used in the bombings. He drives a stolen white Toyota Corolla and travels with a Renault Kangoo van and a Volkswagen Golf. Trashorras and Mohammed Oulad Akcha (another member of the militant cell) drive the other vehicles. The three vehicles drive the explosives to Madrid in what will later be popularly dubbed the “caravan of death.” Ahmidan makes about 15 calls on his monitored phone during the several hour journey, many of them to El Gnaoui. While he does not explicitly talk on the phone about moving explosives, he does make clear to El Gnaoui that he and two other vehicles are moving something to Madrid. He is stopped for speeding along the way by police, but the trunk of his car is not checked. He gives the police officer a false identification. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Othman El Gnaoui, Jamal Ahmidan, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Mohammed Oulad Akcha

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On the night of March 4, 2004, members of Spain’s Civil Guard go to an unnamed witness in Madrid and ask him about Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.” The Madrid bombings conducted seven days later are said to involve two groups. One group is made up of Islamist radicals under heavy surveillance and the other group is made up of criminals and drug dealers who sell the explosives to this group. Ahmidan from the first group and Trashorras for the second are the main intermediaries. This witness is asked extensively about his car, a white Toyota Corolla. In late February, Ahmidan used a stolen white Toyota Corolla with a similar registration to help move the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. He was briefly stopped for speeding by police on his way to Madrid and gave an alias instead of his real name (see February 28-29, 2004). The Toyota was also used by Trashorras in Asturias and he was fined while driving it three times. This suggests police had some knowledge about the explosives deal before the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Trashorras is a government informant, but it will later be claimed that he did not inform his handlers about the explosives deal before the bombings, and he will be sentenced to life in prison (see October 31, 2007). Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up with other key bombers about a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).

Entity Tags: Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Jamal Ahmidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Near midnight on March 5, 2004, Othman El Gnaoui spends some time in a Madrid police station. He is considered one of the key Madrid bombers and will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings. What he is doing in the station is not clear as police will not discuss it later. But his phone is being monitored at the time, and transcripts of calls will later reveal him calling family from inside the station who are wondering where he is at such a late hour. He tells his wife that he had some trouble with identification papers while riding his motorcycle. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] But there are some curious coincidences. Just the day before, an unnamed witness was asked about Jamal Ahmidan and Emilio Suarez Trashorras (see Evening, March 4, 2004). In late February 2004, El Gnaoui bought explosives from Trashorras and others. On February 29, Ahmidan called him at least five times as he helped drive the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. Both Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones were being monitored at the time. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Also curiously, one day after the bombings, police will stop monitoring the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui (see March 12, 2004).

Entity Tags: Jamal Ahmidan, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Othman El Gnaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On March 12, 2004, just one day after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spanish police ask for the monitoring of two likely suspects in the bombings to stop. Police ask that wiretaps on the phones of Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”) and Othman El Gnaoui be halted. The reason for this request is unknown. Police have been monitored Ahmidan since at least 2002, and have linked him to a group of suspect Islamist militants (see July 2003 and January 4, 2003). Most of the key Madrid bombers will be linked to this group. Police had asked a witness about Ahmidan less than a week before the bombings (see Evening, March 4, 2004). It is not known how long El Gnaoui has been under surveillance, but he was questioned at a police station five days before the bombings, and Ahmidan had frequently called him in late February when both their phones were tapped (see Evening, March 5, 2004). In the early morning hours of March 12, investigators discovered a phone card belonging to Jamal Zougam that was connected to an unexploded bomb (see March 12, 2004). By 10:00 a.m. investigators begin tracing who Zougam called using that phone card. Several hours later, it is discovered that Zougam called Ahmidan and many of his associates. It is not known which comes first, the discovery of a link between Zougam and Ahmidan, or the request to stop monitoring Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones. But it appears the tapping of their phone does come to a stop and is not restarted for some days after that. Interestingly, the police also request to begin monitoring the phones of Rafa Zouhier. He is an informant who had a role in selling the explosives used in the bombings to Ahmidan (see September 2003-February 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), while El Gnaoui will eventually be arrested and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, someone from within a police station will call El Gnaoui four times several weeks after the bombings and then try to hide this from investigators (see March 27-30, 2004).

Entity Tags: Jamal Zougam, Jamal Ahmidan, Rafa Zouhier, Othman El Gnaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The explosion in the Leganes apartment.The explosion in the Leganes apartment. [Source: Associated Press]The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were not suicide bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and most of the key bombers remain in Spain, holed up in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. The police surrounded them in the early afternoon and a several hour shootout began (see 2:00-9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). GEO, an elite police unit, arrives around 8:00 p.m. The head of GEO will later testify that he decides to assault the apartment immediately because of reports they have explosives. The entire area has already been evacuated. There reportedly is some shouting back and forth, but no negotiations. One of the bombers reportedly shouts, “Enter, you suckers!” At 9:30, the GEO unit knocks down the door to the apartment with explosives and throws tear gas into the room. But the bombers are reportedly huddled together and blow themselves up. One GEO agent is also killed in the explosion. The bombers killed are: Allekema Lamari, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Abdennabi Kounjaa, Arish Rifaat, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), and the brothers Mohammed Oulad Akcha and Rachid Oulad Akcha. Others are believed to have escaped during the shootout. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 360-361; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/22/2007] Lamari, Fakhet, and Ahmidan are thought to have been the top leaders of the plot. [BBC, 3/10/2005] It will later emerge that close associates of both Fakhet and Lamari were government informants (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004), and that Spanish intelligence specifically warned in November 2003 that the two of them were planning an attack in Spain on a significant target (see November 6, 2003). Furthermore, Fakhet himself may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).

Entity Tags: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Rachid Oulad Akcha, GEO, Mohammed Oulad Akcha, Arish Rifaat, Abdennabi Kounjaa, Abu Qatada, Allekema Lamari, Jamal Ahmidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed.Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [Source: Associated Press]The trial of 28 people accused of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings comes to an end, and 21 are found guilty. However, only three are convicted of murder and are given life sentences: Jamal Zougam, Othman El Gnaoui, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras. Seven of the principal bombers blew themselves up one month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). None of the accused confessed, making convictions difficult. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was accused of being the bombing mastermind. While living it Italy, he reportedly bragged, “I was the leader of Madrid,” and “the Madrid bombings were my project, and those who died as martyrs there were my beloved friends.” But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated and so they were thrown out as evidence. A counterterrorism expert says the court appeared to have a very strict standard of admissible evidence. However, Ahmed is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Italy based on unrelated charges. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004; MSNBC, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 11/1/2007] Many victims’ relatives complain that the sentences are too lenient. And a spokesperson for Spain’s main opposition party comments, “We still don’t know who gave the order, we still don’t know who built those bombs, and we still don’t know who was the coordinator of these cells that carried out these attacks.” [BBC, 11/1/2007] Some of the other verdicts:
bullet Hamid Ahmidan - 23 years.
bullet Rachid Aglif - 18 years.
bullet Abdelmajid Bouchar - 18 years.
bullet Basel Ghalyoun - 12 years.
bullet Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam - 12 years.
bullet Fouad el Morabit - 12 years.
bullet Mouhannad Almallah - 12 years.
bullet Rafa Zouhier - 10 years.
bullet Youssef Belhadj - 12 years.
bullet Antonio Toro - Acquitted.
bullet Carmen Toro - Acquitted. [El Mundo (Madrid), 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Rachid Aglif, Mouhannad Almallah, Othman El Gnaoui, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Rafa Zouhier, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Hamid Ahmidan, Abdelmajid Bouchar, Antonio Toro, Basel Ghalyoun, Carmen Toro, Fouad el Morabit, Jamal Zougam, Youssef Belhadj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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