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Context of 'March 18-26, 2004: Police Fail to Search House Where Madrid Bombers Built Their Bombs, Key Suspects Escape as Result'

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Nayat Fadal Mohamed is the wife of Mohamed Needl Acaid. In November 2001, Acaid was imprisoned with al-Qaeda cell leader Barakat Yarkas and others, and was charged with being a member of al-Qaeda (see November 13, 2001). With Acaid in prison, Nayat took over the management of her husband’s farm in the town of Morata, not far from Madrid. The farm is set off from the nearest road and is surrounded by a six-foot tall privacy fence and several trees. In October 2002, Mustapha Maymouni rents the house. That same month, Spanish police realize he has rented the house because they are monitoring him very closely since he is the leader of a group of suspicious Islamist militants. Like Acaid, Maymouni was a known associate of Yarkas before the November 2001 arrests. In May 2003, Maymouni returns to his home country of Morocco and is arrested there later that month for involvement in a series of bombings in Casablanca (see Late May-June 19, 2003 and May 16, 2003). After Maymouni leaves, the Morata farm house is not immediately rented again, but Maymouni’s brother-in-law Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet has the keys to the house and uses it sometimes. He also takes over as the leader of the Maymouni’s militant group. Police will later claim that they stop monitoring the farm house after Maymouni is arrested in Morocco. On January 28, 2004, the farm house is rented again, this time to Jamal Ahmidan, a.k.a. “El Chino.” He is a member of Fakhet’s group. He signs the rental papers using a false identity. More and more members of the group begin showing up at the house. By late February 2004, the group has bought the explosives for their bomb plot and they bring the explosives to the house. They assemble the bombs there. [El Pais (Spain), 7/31/2005; EFE, 3/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mustapha Maymouni, Mohamed Needl Acaid, Nayat Fadal Mohamed, Jamal Ahmidan

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

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

Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a police informant, is questioned about the Madrid train bombings that took place one week before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The previous day, another informant named Rafa Zouhier spoke to police and named Trashorras, Jamal Ahmidan, and others as key figures in the purchase of the explosives used in the bombings (see March 17, 2004). Trashorras and Zouhier allegedly did not tell their handlers about the explosives purchase before the bombings, so they are both arrested and eventually convicted for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Trashorras confesses much information to the police, including the role of Ahmidan and the fact that the bombs were built in a farm house Ahmidan is renting in the nearby town of Morata. Police already are aware of the house because some of the Madrid bombings suspects were monitored meeting there in 2002 and 2003 (see October 2002-June 2003), but it has not been searched since the bombings. By chance, on March 19, Ahmidan returns to the Morata house and has dinner there with his family. However, police still have not acted on Trashorras’s tip and gone to the house, so they miss Ahmidan. Also on March 19, police publicly announce the arrest of Trashorras, causing Ahmidan to finally go into hiding (see March 19, 2004). He goes to the bombers’ hideout in the town of Leganes, which could have led police to most of the other bombers. Hamid Ahmidan, Jamal Ahmidan’s cousin, answers questions about the house to police on March 21 and reveals that many of the bombers were there just before the bombing. But remarkably, police do not search the house until March 26. By that time, Ahmidan and the other bombers who lived there are no longer there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008] Ahmidan and many of the other key bomb suspects allegedly blow themselves up in Leganes in early April (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).

Entity Tags: Rafa Zouhier, Jamal Ahmidan, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Hamid Ahmidan

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

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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