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Context of '10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004: Spanish Investigators Begin to Suspect Islamist Miltants Are Behind Madrid Train Bombings'

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At around 7:00 a.m., Luis Garrudo Fernandez, a doorman for an apartment building in the town of Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, see three men behaving strangely near a white Renault Kangoo van parked near the local train station. The next day, he will tell the press, “When I saw them I thought they might be armed robbers or something like that… They were all covered up around their heads and necks, and it wasn’t even cold.” He gets close to one of them who is hurrying off towards the station. “All I could see was that he was wearing a white scarf around his neck and something covering the top of his head. You could only really see his eyes.” The others go to the back of the van and take out three big black rucksacks. Fernandez is unable to determine their ethnicity since he cannot see their faces clearly, but he suspects they are foreigners. Forty minutes later, bombs explode on four trains; the trains had started their journeys at the Alcala station (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Fernandez soon tells a neighbor about the strange men. At 10:50 a.m., the neighbor calls the police. What the police find in the van will be the first lead in determining who is behind the train bombings. Fernandez claims the police soon come and inspect the van.
Immediately Told - He says they immediately tell him that they found bomb detonators and a cassette inside. The cassette contains exhortations from the Koran, but Fernandez will not remember them telling him anything about the cassette having an Arabic link. He is then driven to the police station, and on the way there a policeman tells him that he does not believe ETA, the Basque separatist group, is responsible. That evening at about 7:00 p.m., he is asked to look at a series of photographs of Arab suspects.
Contradictory Claim - However, this claim is later contradicted by a police report. While it is not denied that Fernandez gave the initial tip, the report says the van is not searched until about 3:30 p.m., after it has been moved to a different part of town. Eduardo Blanco, the police chief in Alcala de Henares, will later testify in support of the police report and will say that he is not told until that evening that detonators and an Arab cassette have been found in the vehicle. [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Daily Telegraph, 3/15/2004; Expatica, 7/6/2004; London Times, 7/7/2004] The discrepancy is important in determining just how quickly investigators begin to suspect Islamist militants and not ETA are behind the bombing.

Entity Tags: Luis Garrudo Fernandez, Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, Eduardo Blanco

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain.Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/9/2006] However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004] It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. [MSNBC, 3/19/2004; Bloomberg, 4/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amer el-Azizi, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The white van, impounded in a police parking lot.The white van, impounded in a police parking lot. [Source: Libertad Digital]At 10:50 a.m. on March 11, 2004, Madrid police receive an eyewitness tip pointing them to a white van (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004) left at one of the train stations that had been bombed about three hours earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One investigator will later say: “At the beginning, we didn’t pay too much attention to it. Then we saw that the license plate didn’t correspond to the van.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Police determine that the van was stolen several days before. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] At about 2:00 p.m., police take the van away. Accounts conflict as to whether the van is searched that morning before it is moved or that afternoon after the move (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Guardian, 3/13/2004] Regardless, when it is searched investigators find a plastic bag containing bomb detonators. They also find a cassette tape containing recitations of the Koran. Investigators had immediately suspected ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, and in fact at 1:30 p.m. Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes publicly blames ETA for the bombings. But based on the evidence in the van they begin to suspect Islamist militants were behind it instead. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Vidino, 2006, pp. 294] That evening, traces of the explosive Goma-2 are also found in the van. This will further point the investigation away from the ETA, since that group has never been known to use that type of explosive (see (8:00 a.m.-Evening) March 11, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Angel Acebes, Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), a police officer finds an unexploded bomb in a backpack under a seat on one of the trains. He moves to a clear spot away from the train and calls the bomb squad. But just as the squad is approaching, the bomb explodes. No one is hurt, and this gives the bomb experts a chance to smell the air to roughly determine what type of explosive was used. [El Pais, 3/24/2004] Word begins to spread within the Spanish government that Titadyne was the type of explosive used in the bombings. Titadyne is the manufactured form of a dynamite normally used by ETA, a Basque separatist group. ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain, and in recent months some ETA members had been caught with Titadyne. So these early reports heavily influence officials as they begin to make public statements blaming ETA for the bombings. However, the bombs are actually made of Goma-2, not Titadyne. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will later comment, “No expert police, and fewer explosives deactivation specialists, could confuse Titadyne with Goma-2. The odors that cause both substances are as different as a banana and a pear.… The error in transmitting the report can only be intentional.” However, it is unclear where the claim that Titadyne was used came from. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] Police chief Agustin Diaz de Mera is one person who is given a report during the day claiming that Titadyne was used. In 2007, testifying in the Madrid bombings trial, he will cite police confidentiality and refuse to name the source of the report. He will be fined $1,300 for his refusal to answer the question. [Associated Press, 3/28/2007] That evening, traces of Goma-2 are found in a suspicious stolen van linked to the bombers (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004). Late that night, an exploded bomb will be found on one of the bombed trains, and investigators will quickly determine it is made of Goma-2 (see March 12, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] But the government will continue to point blame at the ETA (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). That same evening, an official from the Spanish prime minister’s office calls foreign journalists based in Madrid and tells them that ETA is responsible. One reason given is that Titadyne was used. [El Pais, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, Agustin Diaz de Mera

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Massive demonstrations in Madrid on March 12, 2004.Massive demonstrations in Madrid on March 12, 2004. [Source: Associated Press]In the early morning of March 12, 2004, a police officer searching through the wreckage of the Madrid trains bombed the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) discovers a bag containing 22 pounds of explosives surrounded by nails and screws. Two wires run from a cell phone to a detonator. Police use the memory chip inside the phone to find who the owner of the phone has called recently. They quickly discover a network of Islamist militants, many of them already under surveillance. They hone in on Jamal Zougam, who owns a cell phone shop that is connected to the phone, and who had been under investigation for militant links since 2000 (see 2000-Early March 2004). He will be arrested a day later. But the ruling party has already blamed the bombings on ETA, a Basque separate group (see Evening, March 11, 2004). Interior Minister Angel Acebes had blamed ETA within hours of the attacks (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004), and again he publicly claims that ETA is the prime suspect, even though police are now sure that Islamist militants were behind the bombings instead. He even calls those who suggest otherwise “pathetic” and says their alternative theories are “poisonous”. But news that ETA is not to blame is already leaking to the media. That evening about 11 million Spaniards protest around the country—about one fourth of Spain’s population. They are protesting the violence of the bombings, but also, increasingly, growing evidence of a cover-up that attempts to falsely blame ETA. The New Yorker will later comment, “It was clear that the [national election on March 14] would swing on the question of whether Islamists or ETA terrorists were responsible for the bombings.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Youssef Belhadj.Youssef Belhadj. [Source: Public domain]At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. [Associated Press, 3/13/2004] A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). [New York Times, 4/12/2004] Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” [BBC, 3/14/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342] Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. [Observer, 3/14/2004] But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” [BBC, 3/14/2004] The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. [New York Times, 4/12/2004] The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]

Entity Tags: Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, Angel Acebes, Al-Qaeda, Youssef Belhadj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Maussili Kalaji.Maussili Kalaji. [Source: El Mundo]The Madrid newspaper El Mundo reveals some curious details about Spanish police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji and the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004):
bullet Born in Syria, Kalaji belonged to the militant group Al Fatah and was also a Soviet intelligence agent. He moved to Spain in the early 1980s as a political refugee and eventually became a citizen and joined the national police by the late 1980s. He rose through the ranks and at some point he was the bodyguard to Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge presiding over trials of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Spain such as Barakat Yarkas.
bullet In 1995, Kalaji sold an apartment to Moutaz Almallah. Almallah is considered a key link between the bombing cell and al-Qaeda operatives overseas. His apartment is said to be a nerve center for the plot. Kalaji admits to being in close contact with Almallah.
bullet When a different apartment owned by Almallah was raided after the Madrid bombing, two documents were found with Kalaji’s name on it. One referenced the 1995 purchase, and the second was from 2001. This apartment, on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid, was a key hub of the Madrid bombers and was under surveillance for a full year leading up to the bombings (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004).
bullet Kalaji is also said to have been on friendly terms with Barakat Yarkas, the leader of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid until his arrest in November 2001. Kalaji played a role in the arrest.
bullet In 2001, Kalaji was investigated for credit card fraud.
bullet For many years, Kalaji’s sister Lina Kalaji was in charge of translating the monitored telephone calls from Islamist cells in Spain. In 2002, she translated the intercepts of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, considered one of the bombing masterminds (see 2002).
bullet His ex-wife Marisol Kalaji is also a police officer and was the first on the scene to a van discovered the day of the bombings containing a cassette tape of the Koran. This is what first led investigators to believe the bombing was the work of Islamist and not Basque militants (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004).
bullet He owns a cell phone store. The phones used to trigger the bombs were bought in a different store, but in Kalaji’s store the phones’ internal codes were reset so they could be used by other phone services.
He is said to go on leave not long after the bombings, due to all his curious connections. He also gives a statement to investigators regarding his role in changing the phone codes, but he is not charged for any crime. [El Mundo (Madrid), 5/17/2005; National Review, 5/18/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 5/20/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/22/2005] For days after El Mundo publishes its first story about Kalaji, a Spanish police commissioner will officially request Kalaji be arrested, but apparently he never is (see May 20, 2005). In August 2005, El Mundo will conclude that “it is becoming increasingly evident” that Kalaji played a “leading role” in the Madrid bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/22/2005] Almallah will be arrested in Britain in 2005 and extradited to stand trial in Spain in 2007 (see March 18-19, 2005). [London Times, 3/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Baltasar Garzon, Lina Kalaji, Marisol Kalaji, Moutaz Almallah, Ayman Maussili Kalaji

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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