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Context of 'March 27-30, 2004: Spanish Police Call Madrid Bomber While He Is in Hiding, Later Try to Cover This Up'

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Many of the Madrid train bombers have their phones tapped for months before the March 2004 train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Some of them have been monitored for years (one, Moutaz Almallah, was under surveillance for nine years (see November 1995). While snippets from some phone calls will be made public after the bombings (see February 28-29, 2004), the content of the vast majority of these calls remain unknown. One example hints at what some of these calls might contain. Rosa Ahmidan, the wife of bomber Jamal Ahmidan, begins fully cooperating with the authorities after being interviewed for the first time on March 25, 2004 (see March 27-30, 2004). She will later say that in April she gets a phone bill from one land line used by her husband. The bill is for around 1,000 euros. It shows Jamal Ahmidan made many calls to Afghanistan, London, and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Rosa Ahmidan, Jamal Ahmidan, 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

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 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

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

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

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