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Context of '11:00 a.m., April 2, 2004: Madrid Train Bombers Apparently Botch Second Train Bombing'

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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

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

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

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

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