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Context of 'March 30-31, 2004: Spain Finally Issues Arrest Warrants, Publishes Photos of Some Suspect Madrid Bombers'

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Said Berraj will be considered closely involved in the Madrid train bombings plot (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and frequently runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombings. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). In 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents. It is not clear if or when he stops meeting with them. And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. He flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will later testify under oath as a protected witness that he accidentally sees Fakhet and Berrai meeting with his handlers in 2003, suggesting that Fakhet is an informant as well (see Shortly After October 2003).

Entity Tags: Abdelkader Farssaoui, Said Berraj, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Angel Acebes.Angel Acebes. [Source: Luis Magan / El Pais]At 4:00 p.m. on March 13, 2004, the day before national elections in Spain, Interior Minister Angel Acebes announces on television that Jamal Zougam and two other Moroccans have been arrested for suspected roles in the Madrid train bombings two days before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). A day earlier, evidence found at one of the bomb sites was linked to Zougam (see March 12, 2004), and he had long been monitored for his Islamist militant links (see 2000-Early March 2004). Nonetheless, Acebes continues to suggest that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombing instead. The ruling party has staked its reputation on its assertion that ETA is to blame. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] That evening, the national public television station even changes its regular television programming to show a movie about Basque terrorism. [Australian, 11/2/2007] But by now the opposition Socialist Party is publicly accusing the government of lying about the investigation in order to stay in power. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, Angel Acebes, Jamal Zougam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rafa Zouhier is an informant working for Spain’s Civil Guard. On March 16 and 17, 2004, he speaks to his handler, known by the alias Victor, and gives him vital leads that help break open the investigation into the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He mentions that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” was a key member of the bomb plot. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 343-348] Then, according to phone transcripts, on March 17, 2004, he calls Victor again and correctly tells him the exact street where Ahmidan lives. Zouhier gives further details about what Ahmidan looks like, his car, his family, and so on. Seemingly, the police have enough information to find Ahmidan, but they do not attempt to go to his house. Nine days later, they will talk to Ahmidan’s wife and find out that he was there on March 17 and all the next day. Then, on the March 19, Ahmidan goes to the farm house he is renting where the bombs were built, which the police have yet to search (see March 18-26, 2004). After that, he goes to an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes, where most of the rest of the suspects are staying. So if police would have pursued the lead and then trailed Ahmidan, they would have been led to nearly all the main suspects. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/3/2006] Police will arrest Zouhier on March 19 for not telling them more about the plot, and sooner. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] He will eventually be convicted and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]

Entity Tags: Jamal Ahmidan, Rafa Zouhier, “Victor”

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Police have concluded that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” is one of the main suspects in the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). On March 25, Ahmidan’s wife Rosa begins fully cooperating with police. Two days later, someone calls her from the the telephone number 629247179. That same day, someone calls a man named Othman El Gnaoui from the same number. El Gnaoui is a close associate of Ahmidan. The same phone number is used to call the mobile phone number of a man named Abdelkader Kounjaa four times three days later. He is the brother of Abdennabi Kounjaa, one of the bombers hiding out with many of the other bombers in an apartment in the town of Leganes by this date (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). The police will later tell the judge in the Madrid bombings trial that the person using this phone to make all these calls was Ahmidan. But in fact, in 2005 the judge will learn from the phone company that the phone number actually belongs to the national police. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later say she does not remember who called her, and phone records show the call to her lasted less than a minute. These calls have never been explained, but they suggest the police knew where some of the suspects were hiding, took no action against them, and then tried to cover this up. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/23/2007] Curiously, one day after the bombings, police stopped tapping the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui even though evidence linked Ahmidan to the main suspect in the bombings that same day (see March 12, 2004). El Gnaoui will be arrested on March 30 and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see March 30-31, 2004). [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]

Entity Tags: Jamal Ahmidan, Abdelkader Kounjaa, Othman El Gnaoui, Rosa Ahmidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On March 30, 2004, Madrid train bombings suspect Othman El Gnaoui is arrested in Spain (he will later be sentenced to life in prison, see October 31, 2007). The next day, the Spanish government finally issues the first international arrest warrants for the bombings. It also publicly names six of the top suspects and releases photographs of them. The named suspects are: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Said Berraj, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), Abdennabi Kounjaa, and the brothers Rachid Oulad Akcha and Mohammed Oulad Akcha. [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Jamal Zougam was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Over the next weeks, more arrests were made. By the end of March, almost 20 suspects have been arrested. But strangely, there appears to be no effort to arrest the main suspects like the six mentioned above, who generally continued to live openly in Spain after the bombings. However, they were aware of the arrest of their associates and by the end of March most of them have gone into hiding, renting an apartment together in the town of Leganes. [Irujo, 2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 302] Even by the end of the month, authorities appear uncertain about whom to arrest. For instance, on March 30, Fouad El Morabit is arrested, then released, then arrested again. Then he is released again the next day, only to be arrested yet again later. He will eventually be sentenced to 12 years for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Other likely suspects such as Allekema Lamari and Abdelmajid Boucher have not been charged or questioned at all by the end of March. All of this is strange, because Spanish intelligence has been monitoring all of the above mentioned people and their associates for at least a year before the bombings, sometimes more, and their phone numbers and addresses are known. When Zougam was arrested on March 13, investigators found he had called many of those mentioned above in the days before the bombings, which seemingly would have been grounds for their arrest or questioning. Adding to the strange situation, most of these suspects continued to live normal lives for many days after the bombings, which would have made their arrests easy. For instance, Ahmidan continued to live with his wife and children until March 19 (see March 17, 2004). He even continued to use his monitored cell phone, visited bars, and talked to neighbors. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006] On April 2, the Madrid bombers apparently will try to bomb another train (see 11:00 a.m., April 2, 2004). One day after that, seven of the bombers, including Fakhet, Ahmidan, Kounjaa, and the Akcha brothers, apparently blow themselves up after a shootout with police (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). Berraj is a government informant despite being listed as a wanted man (see 2003), and will never be charged in the bombings.

Entity Tags: Fouad el Morabit, Abdelmajid Boucher, Allekema Lamari, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Abdennabi Kounjaa, Rachid Oulad Akcha, Jamal Ahmidan, Said Berraj, Mohammed Oulad Akcha, Othman El Gnaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At 11:00 a.m. on April 2, 2004, a security guard notices a plastic bag next to train tracks forty miles south of Madrid. The bag contains 26 pounds of the same type of explosives used in the March 11 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The explosives are connected to a detonator by 450 feet of cable, but they lack a triggering mechanism. The tracks are for a high-speed rail line, and if the bomb had derailed a train, it could have killed more people than the March 11 bombings did. Three days earlier, workers surprised a group of men digging a hole on a nearby section of the same rail line. It is suggested that the bombers fled prematurely both times. The next day, at 6:05 p.m., the Madrid newspaper receives a fax from Abu Dujan al-Afghani taking credit for the failed bomb. This same person (whose real name is Youssef Belhadj) took credit for the Madrid bombings and was linked to the actual bombers (see 7:30 p.m., March 13, 2004). He says the bomb is meant to show that the group can attack at any time, and demands that Spain withdraw all its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately (the new prime minster has already pledged to withdraw Spain’s troops from Iraq (see March 14, 2004)). Curiously, the fax is sent right when the key Madrid bombers are in the middle of a gun battle with Spanish police. They are killed several hours later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [BBC, 3/4/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 349-260; Vidino, 2006, pp. 302-303]

Entity Tags: Youssef Belhadj

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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