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Context of '4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004: Spanish Government Announces Islamist Militant Has Been Arrested for Madrid Bombings, but Continues to Blame Basque Separatists'

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Jamal Zougam.Jamal Zougam. [Source: El Mundo]By 2000, a Moroccan living in Spain named Jamal Zougam begins to attract the attention of Spanish intelligence. Barakat Yarkas frequently travels to London to meet with al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada, and Zougam accompanies Yarkas on at least one of these trips (see 1995-February 2001). Spanish intelligence is monitoring Yarkas and his cell, and they are aware that Zougam is introduced to Qatada as “a gifted young recruit.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/17/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 77-79] In June 2001, a French investigator warns that Zougam is an important militant with international links and advise the Spanish to arrest him (see June 2001). Around the same time, Spanish investigators learn that Zougam met with Mohammed Fazazi, a Moroccan imam who preached at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, that is attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001). On August 14, 2001, Zougam is recorded telling Yarkas that he had offered Fazazi money for the jihad cause. Fazazi is also linked to Abu Qatada and had met him in London. After the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003), interest in Zougam increases as the Moroccan, Spanish, and French governments all suspect he was involved in those bombings. But he is still not arrested, and his surveillance in Spain is not increased, apparently due to lack of resources. [New York Times, 3/17/2004; Observer, 3/21/2004] In the days before the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Zougam makes about a dozen phone calls to contacts in London. He is said to talk to four al-Qaeda suspects, as well as a “radical London-based preacher” - a possible reference to Abu Qatada. Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for playing a direct role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007] After the Madrid bombings, British authorities will say that there was a “definite link” to Britain in the bomb plot. Zougam is believed to have made trips to London in search of funding, planning, and logistical help, and supplying equipment and false identification papers for the bombers. [Independent, 3/19/2004] One figure believed central to the bomb plot, Moutaz Almallah, will be arrested in London in 2005 and extradited to Spain in 2007 (see May 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Jamal Zougam, Mohammed Fazazi, Abu Qatada, Barakat Yarkas, Moutaz Almallah

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

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

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

On March 14, 2004, just three days after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spain holds national elections. The opposition Socialist party wins. The Socialists go from 125 seats to 164 in the 350-seat legislature. The ruling Popular Party falls from 183 seats to 148. As a result, Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero replaces Jose Maria Aznar as Spain’s prime minister. Zapatero had pledged to withdraw Spain’s troops from the war in Iraq. In declaring victory, Zapatero again condemns the war in Iraq and reiterates his pledge to withdraw. He keeps his pledge and withdraws all of Spain’s troops over the next couple of months. [Associated Press, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
Victory for Al-Qaeda? - Some will see this as a strategic victory for al-Qaeda. A treatise written by al-Qaeda leader Yusef al-Ayeri in late 2003 suggested the political utility of bombing Spain in order to force them to withdraw their troops from Iraq (see December 2003). For instance, an editor at the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC will later say, “I doubt whether anyone can seriously suggest that Spain has not acted in a way that suggests appeasement.”
Angry Voters - But Spanish voters may not have voted out of fear of being attacked again because of its Iraq commitment so much as anger at the ruling party for attempting to hide evidence linking the bombing to al-Qaeda and falsely blaming Basque separatists instead (see Evening, March 11, 2004, March 12, 2004, 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] For instance, the Guardian will report, “The spectacular gains made by [the Socialist party] were in large part a result of the government’s clumsy attempts at media manipulation following the Madrid bombs on Thursday.… The party had just three days to avoid the charge that it had attracted the bombers by supporting a war that was opposed by 90% of Spaniards.… There would have been a double bonus for the [Popular Party] if they could have successfully deflected the blame onto the Basque terrorist group, ETA. A central plank of the government’s election platform had been that [the Socialists] are ‘soft’ on Basque terrorism.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Yusef al-Ayeri, Al-Qaeda, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Jose Maria Aznar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Popular Party led by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is voted out of power on March 14, 2004 (see March 14, 2004). In December 2004, the incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Socialist party, will claim that shortly after the election Aznar wiped out all computer records at the prime minister’s office from the period between the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the elections three days later. Zapatero will tell a parliamentary commission: “There was nothing, absolutely nothing… everything had been wiped. There is nothing from March 11 to March 14 in the prime minister’s office.” Only some paper documents remain. During those days, the ruling party strongly asserted that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, even as investigators quickly uncovered overwhelming evidence that Islamist militants were the real culprits (see Evening, March 11, 2004, March 12, 2004, 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Zapatero will accuse Aznar’s government of having tried to frame ETA for the bombings. “It was massive deceit,” he says. [Guardian, 12/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, Jose Maria Aznar, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The estranged wife of Mouhannad Almallah goes to the judge in charge of the Madrid train bombings investigation and tells him that her husband had been planning attacks in Madrid. So far Jamal Zougam is the main suspect known to the public, as his arrest was announced three days before (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). She says that her husband knew Zougam and talked about doing business with him in Morocco. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007] A police officer confirms to the judge that she had already discussed many of these connections with police in January and February 2003. At that time, she named her husband, his brother Moutaz Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Basel Ghalyoun, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Ahmidan, and others (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). These men will turn out to be most of the key players in the train bombings. All of them have been under surveillance for over a year at her apartment and elsewhere (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). She tells the judge additional details about the Almallah brothers’ links to Abu Qatada, an imam linked to al-Qaeda (see August 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] Seemingly, her account, plus all the data collected from monitoring these suspects prior to the bombing, should be enough evidence to arrest the suspects. Strangely, many of the suspects continue to live where they lived before the bombing, and continue to use the same phones as before. For instance, Ahmidan, whom she named, lives at the same residence as before until March 18 (see March 27-30, 2004). But there seems to be no urgent effort to arrest or monitor them, nor are their names or pictures published until March 30. In fact, the apartment where Mouhannad Almallah and his wife lived that was monitored for over a year is not raided until March 24 (see March 24-30, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Mouhannad Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Jamal Ahmidan, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Zougam, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Basel Ghalyoun

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), many of the suspected bombers remain in Spain and do not attempt to go into hiding, even though it was publicly announced that one of their associates, Jamal Zougam, was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, a figure linked to the two main groups involved in the bombings - the Islamist militants and the drug dealers who helped procure the explosives - remains with his wife and family. Sometimes he goes to a farm house he is renting in the town of Morata near Madrid, where investigators later determine the bombers built the bombs. Beginning on March 17, Spanish police are given evidence tying Ahmidan to the bombings and details about where he lived (see March 17, 2004). On March 18, a police informant named Emilio Suarez Trashorras is questioned and gives the exact location of Ahmidan’s farm house (see March 18-26, 2004). But rather than go to the house, police decide Trashorras is part of the bombings plot since he did not tell his handlers about selling explosives to Ahmidan. They arrest him and publicly announce his arrest the next day, March 19. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later explain that she is watching television with Jamal at the farm house when Trashorras’s arrest is announced. Hours earlier, Jamal had actually gone to the Civil Guard near the farm and reported that some goats he owns had been stolen. He immediately goes into hiding at an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes. Other bombers also find out about the arrest of Trashorras and go into hiding at the Leganes apartment as well. Police will not raid Ahmidan’s farm in Morata until March 26 (see March 18-26, 2004). [El Pais (Spain), 3/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Rosa Ahmidan, Jamal Ahmidan, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Jamal Zougam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Spanish police raid the apartment of Mouhannad Almallah, an Islamist militant suspected of involvement in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The apartment is owned by his brother, Moutaz Almallah. Mouhannad is arrested, but Moutaz is not, since he has been living in Britain since 2002 (see August 2002). Police also raid another apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid owned by Moutaz, where several other bombing suspects, Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit, have lived.
Years of Surveillance - It is surprising police took so long to raid either apartment, since the Almallah brothers have been suspected militants for many years. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] Moutaz was considered the closest assistant to Barakas Yarkas, long-time head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, and it appears he was monitored since 1995 because of his ties to Yarkas (see November 13, 2001). He also is known to have lived with the al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada in London in 2002 (see August 2002). Curiously, a police officer later suspected of a role in the Madrid bombings sold Moutaz an apartment in 1995 and then remained friends with him (see November 1995). [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; BBC, 3/24/2005]
Wife's Tips Do Not Lead to Arrests - Mouhannad had been a suspect since 1998, when it was discovered that another member of Yarkas’s cell had filed a false document using Mouhannad’s name. Furthermore, in January 2003 Mouhannad’s estranged wife began informing against him and his militant associates (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). She exposed the brothers’ connections to many suspect militants, including Jamal Zougam, who was arrested just two days after the Madrid bombings (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). As a result of her tips, police had monitored the Virgen del Coro apartment for a year and were still monitoring it when the Madrid bombings took place (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Mouhannad’s wife spoke to police five days after the bombings, reminding them of the link between Mouhannad and Zougam, so it is unclear why police waited 13 days to raid the Virgen del Coro apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005]
Let Go Despite Confessing Knowledge of Attack Plans - Mouhannad is finally arrested because two witnesses saw Ghalyoun, one of the two militants living in the Virgen del Coro apartment, near the Madrid trains when they were bombed. Mouhannad admits knowing Zougam, the main suspect. He says he had gone to Zougam’s shop to buy a charger for his phone. He says he knows Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, another prime suspect in the Madrid bombings, and that in the summer of 2003 Fakhet had proposed several times to “rob banks and jewelers” to finance an attack in Spain. Fakhet even told him that he wanted to go into police stations and kill as many people as possible. The police are also aware that Mouhannad’s brother Moutaz and Fakhet were in telephone contact until at least a few days before the bombings. Yet incredibly, on March 30, Mouhannad is “provisionally released,” while still be accused of having a link to the bombings. He continues to live openly in Madrid and is not rearrested. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
Possible Involvement in Planned New York Attack - In the apartment where Mouhannad had been living, police find a sketch of the Grand Central Station in New York with precise annotations, leading to suspicions that some militants in Spain were planning a New York attack. However, it will take investigators several months to analyze and understand the sketch, as it is on a computer disc and accompanied by highly specialized technical data. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] He will be rearrested in Madrid on March 18, 2005, two weeks after it is widely reported that possible plans for a New York attack were found in his apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005] In 2006, a Spanish police report will conclude that the Almallah brothers had such important roles in the Madrid bombings that the bombings “possibly would not have occurred” without them. [Reuters, 3/8/2007] Mouhannad will eventually be sentenced to 12 years in prison (see March 18-19, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Mouhannad Almallah, Fouad el Morabit, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Jamal Zougam, Moutaz Almallah, Basel Ghalyoun

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

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