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Context of 'April-June 2003: Spanish Authorities Recognize Cell of Future Madrid Bombers but Only Arrest One of Them after Cell Is Linked to Morocco Bombings'

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On November 13, 2001 Spanish police arrest cell leader Barakat Yarkas and ten other alleged members of his cell. Spanish police, led by judge Baltasar Garzon, appear confident that they have smashed the al-Qaeda presence in Spain (see November 13, 2001). However, a number of likely suspects are left at large:
bullet Moutaz Almallah. Spanish police will later say that he had contacts with Yarkas as far back as 1995, the year police began to monitor Yarkas. He is said to have served as the “political chief” of Yarkas’s cell. He and Yarkas were seen meeting with an al-Qaeda courier in 1998. He will move to London in 2002 to live with radical imam Abu Qatada (see August 2002). He will be arrested in 2005 for a role in the Madrid bombings but has yet to be tried (see August 2002). Curiously, in 1995, a police officer who also served as Garzon’s bodyguard, sold Almallah an apartment and stayed friends with him (see November 1995). [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; BBC, 3/24/2005]
bullet Amer el-Azizi, who may have had a role in the 9/11 plot, is able to flee a police raid due to a tip-off from Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
bullet Jamal Zougam, even though he has been under suspicion since 2000, and has been tied to al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada and Mohammed Fazazi, who preached at the mosque attended by the 9/11 hijackers (see 2000-Early March 2004). [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Irujo, 2005, pp. 162-164] A French investigator had warned Spanish intelligence in June 2001 that Zougam was an important Islamist militant in a number of countries and that he should be arrested (see June 2001). Zougam’s Madrid apartment was searched by police on August 10, 2001, and investigators found phone numbers of three other members of the cell, plus a video of mujaheddin fighters in Chechnya. [Associated Press, 3/17/2004]
bullet Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. Spanish intelligence began monitoring him in 2000 for his links to other members of the cell. He was photographed with Yarkas in October 2001 (see October 19, 2001). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 182-186] Another informant who later appears as a protected witness will claim that Fakhet was also a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).
bullet Said Chedadi is arrested, but is later released. He had been monitored traveling to London with Yarkas and giving money to Qatada. He will go on to have a role in the Madrid bombings (see 1995-February 2001). He also is roommates with Dris Chebli up until Chebli is arrested in June 2003 (see April-June 2003). [New York Times, 11/14/2001; El Mundo (Madrid), 10/27/2004]
El-Azizi flees overseas, but allegedly instructs the other cell members not arrested to constitute new cells in Madrid and Morocco. Fakhet becomes a leader of the new cells. Even though the vast majority of those not arrested remain under surveillance, including Fakhet and Zougam (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004), they are able to stage the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Fakhet will blow himself up shortly after those bombings, while Zougam will get life in prison for his role. El-Azizi has yet to be captured. Yarkas and most of the others arrested with him will be convicted for al-Qaeda ties in 2005 and given prison terms (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 165-174] A Spanish investigator will later call Yarkas the mastermind of the Madrid bombings even though he was in prison since 2001, because virtually all of the bombers were connected to him in some way. “It is very clear to me, that if by mastermind we mean the person who has put the group together, prepared the group, trained it ideologically, sent them to Afghanistan to be prepared militarily for terrorism, that man is [Yarkas], without any doubt.” [New York Times, 10/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Baltasar Garzon, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Amer el-Azizi, Moutaz Almallah, Jamal Zougam, Said Chedadi, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Spanish intelligence agency CESID (later renamed CNI) frustrates the arrest of a senior member of al-Qaeda in Europe, Amer el-Azizi, by Spanish police. Most members of the cell of which el-Azizi was a member were arrested shortly before, but el-Azizi had avoided the round-up by fleeing abroad (see October 2001). After returning to Spain, he again falls under police surveillance, but, according to Spanish police union head Jose Manuel Sanchez Fornet, his arrest is prevented by “interference” from CESID. Fornet will later say that a police recording made at this time shows two CESID agents going to el-Azizi’s house. This alerts el-Azizi that he is under surveillance and he flees his home. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/29/2004] El-Azizi then remains in Spain for some weeks, selling his car to an associate. When his apartment is searched, police find more than a dozen bags with radical Islamic books and videos. They also find videos of bin Laden on his computer and pamphlets from groups like Hamas. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] El-Azizi was arrested and released twice before (see October 10, 2000). He helped plan a meeting for Mohamed Atta just before 9/11 (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001), and will go on to be involved in the Madrid train bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Amer el-Azizi, Jose Manuel Sanchez Fornet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A 2005 Spanish police report will detail that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, considered one of the masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), is closely monitored with court authorization in 2002. The report will quote Lina Kalaji, a translator for Spanish intelligence (UCI) who translates Fakhet’s Arabic conversations. The report will note she repeatedly warned her superiors he “was a very dangerous man and could be preparing some violent action.” But according to the report, after several months she was told by a superior, Rafael Gome Menor, that the surveillance was to be discontinued. She said this was a very bad mistake. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/29/2005] An informant will report on Fakhet until 2003 (see September 2002-October 2003), and one of Fakhet’s top aides is also an informant (see 2003). There are claims that Fakhet himself is an informant (see 2003). Lina Kalaji’s brother is Ayman Maussili Kalaji, a police officer suspected of a role in the bombings plot (see May 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Ayman Maussili Kalaji, Lina Kalaji, Rafael Gomez Menor, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, is the imam of a mosque in the town of Villaverde, near Madrid, Spain. In 2007, he will testify under oath as a protected witness that he was recruited to be a police informer beginning in late 2001, if not earlier. He says that he is also working as an informant for the government of Morocco, but he nonetheless becomes highly trusted for the Spanish. Apparently, he is little used by the Spanish until about September 2002. But starting that month, he informs on a group of men attending his mosque, led by Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. Other members in the group he watches include Said Berraj, Mustafa Maymouni (Fakhet’s brother-in-law), Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. He is also encouraged to bring Jamal Zougam closer to the group, although he does not see Zougam doing anything criminal. All of these men will later have alleged roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested in Morocco in 2003 for a key role in the Casablanca bombings there that year (see May 16, 2003). Even before Maymouni was arrested, Farssaoui has been giving warnings to his handlers that the group is talking about conducting attacks in Spain and Morocco (see April-June 2003). He is able to get the mobile phone numbers of all of the men so police can monitor those phones. Police do monitor the group members in other ways to confirm what Farssaoui is learning (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). In October 2003, Farssaoui reports that Fakhet is “looking for martyrs.” But Farssaoui is told by his handlers to immediately leave Madrid for another assignment (see October 2003). He does, so he stops monitoring the bombers just as they began planning their bombing in detail. He later says that his handlers forbid him to share what he learns with judge Baltasar Garzon, who is leading investigations into al-Qaeda related cases in Spain. They also encourage him to exaggerate what the suspects are doing so they can be indicted, and he does. This testimony Farssaoui will give in 2007 will contradict some details of earlier testimony he gave in the same trial, but he will claim that it took him time to find courage to tell the whole truth. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/18/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 10/21/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007; ABC (Spain), 3/7/2007] He will also claim that he later accidentally discovers Farket, the leader of the group he was watching, is also a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).

Entity Tags: Mariano Rayon, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Jamal Zougam, Unidad Central de Informacion Exterior, Said Berraj, Baltasar Garzon, Mustapha Maymouni, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

The wife of Mouhannad Almallah gives a statement against her husband to police. She says that he systematically beats her. She also accurately describes in detail his Islamist militant ties:
bullet She says that militants regularly met at her apartment. She and her husband have just moved, and militant continue to meet at their new apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid.
bullet She says that her husband lived with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet for a month in December 2002. Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, visited as well. They moved when they felt they were suspected by police.
bullet She saw her husband open several boxes and noticed they contained books and videos about Osama bin Laden.
bullet Her husband and his brother, Moutaz Almallah, strongly suspect their phones are being monitored. Moutaz lives in London but frequently visits Spain (see August 2002).
bullet She describes four particularly important meetings held in her apartment beginning in November 2002. Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah, Fakhet, and Mayoumi attended all the meetings. Basel Ghalyoun attended the fourth one. In these meetings, they always speak of attack and jihad. They talk about bin Laden, but refer to him as “Emir.”
bullet Sometimes her husband Mouhannad and Fakhet discuss Amer el-Azizi, who fled a police raid in November 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). She finds out they helped him escape Spain dressed as a woman. El-Azizi is believed to be linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Before July 8, 2001).
bullet Both Mouhannad and Fakhet remain in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail. Her husband’s brother Moutaz does as well.
bullet She occasionally sees her husband with Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.”
Police apparently take her warnings seriously because they begin monitoring her apartment in March 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Most of these people—Fakhet, el-Azizi, Ghalyoun, and both Almallah brothers—are already under surveillance (see December 2001-June 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] All of the people she mentions are believed to have important roles in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested and jailed later in 2003 for having a pivotal role in the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003).

Entity Tags: Basel Ghalyoun, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Ahmidan, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mouhannad Almallah, Moutaz Almallah, Osama bin Laden, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Mustapha Maymouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In April 2003, Spanish police alert judge Baltasar Garzon to the existence of an Islamist militant cell in Madrid. Garzon has generally led al-Qaeda related investigations in Spain. An intelligence report to Garzon details a cell led by Mustapha Maymouni. Its assistant leaders are said to be Driss Chebli, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, and the brothers Hassan and Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam. The cell is linked to the radical Takfir Wal Hijra movement and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG). The MICG is said to be led by Amer el-Azizi, who escaped arrest in Spain (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him. The cell has links to el-Azizi as well. In fact, the wife of one of the cell members recently told the authorities that Fakhet and others are staying in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail (see January 4, 2003), a lead that apparently is not pursued. In May 2003, suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, kill 45, and the MICG is quickly identified as the group behind the attacks. Maymouni had gone to Morocco just before the bombings and is arrested there later in May (see Late May-June 19, 2003). On June 25, 2003, Chebli is arrested in Spain for his links to the Casablanca bombings. He will later be accused of a minor role in the 9/11 plot and sentenced to six years in prison (see September 26, 2005). However, the others are not arrested at this time. The police who are monitoring Fakhet will later say they do not understand why Fakhet at least was not arrested after the Casablanca bombings due to his link to Maymouni, who is his brother-in-law. Authorities will claim he was not arrested because there was no evidence he was involved in any plot. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/3/2007] However, this cell is being monitored by a variety of means, including the use of an informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena (see October 2002-June 2003). Even before the Casablanca bombings, Farssaoui tells his handlers that this cell is discussing launching attacks in Morocco and Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/18/2004] Furthermore, a 2002 report said that Fakhet was preparing for “violent action” (see 2002). Farssaoui will later claim that he came across evidence that Fakhet was also an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Fakhet will take over leadership of the group after Maymouni’s arrest and will lead most of them in carrying out the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Takfir Wal Hijra, Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mustapha Maymouni, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Driss Chebli, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Amer el-Azizi, Baltasar Garzon, Hassan ben Sellam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On May 13, 2003, 45 people are killed in a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (see May 16, 2003). Later that month, Mustapha Maymouni is arrested in Morocco for a role in the bombings. He will be sentenced to 18 years in prison. In early June, Abdelaziz Benyaich is arrested in Cadiz, Spain for a role in the bombings. He will later be sentenced to eight years in prison in Spain, then acquitted, and has since been fighting extradition to Morocco. On June 19, Hicham Temsamani is also arrested in the Basque region of Spain for a role in the bombings. He will be extradited to Morocco in March 2004 but acquitted in 2005. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004; Arabic News, 4/21/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006] All three men had been under surveillance by Spanish police for months before the Casablanca bombings. Maymouni is the brother-in-law to Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who will later be considered one of about three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Spanish police have been monitoring Fakhet’s apartment while Maymouni slept there for several months (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police have also noticed that Benyaich is part of the group of militants around Fakhet. This group has also been in contact with Temsamani, who is a former imam of a mosque in Toledo, Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] As a result, Spanish authorities focus more attention and surveillance on Fakhet’s militant group. Court approvals for more surveillance usually make reference to links to the Casablanca bombings. For instance, in February 2004, the court order to approve more surveillance of Madrid bombers Fakhet and Jamal Zougam will say that they have been linked “with al-Qaeda operatives” who were “directly implicated in the events” in Casablanca (see February 3, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdelaziz Benyaich, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Jamal Zougam, Hicham Temsamani, Mustapha Maymouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Imam Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will testify under oath as a protected witness in 2007 that he was an informant and informed on a group of the 2004 Madrid train bombers from 2002 to 2003 (see September 2002-October 2003). He informed for the UCIE, a police unit dealing with terrorism. The group he watches is led by Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who will later be considered one of about three top leaders of the bomb plot. Farssaoui moves from Madrid in October 2003 and stops informing on Fakhet’s group (see October 2003). But not long after that, he is back in Madrid and claims that he sees Fakhet go by on a moped with close associate named Said Berraj. He follows them, and sees Fakhet meeting with two UCIE officers who used to be his handlers at the same spot where he used to meet them. He does not see Berraj and assumes he has gone to the bathroom or something like that. The next day he asks his handler if Fakhet is an informant too, and his handler dodges the question. Farssaoui is wearing a motorcycle helmet and is not spotted. He keeps this information to himself until after the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007; ABC (Spain), 3/7/2007] Berraj is said to be Fakhet’s assistant, and other sources will confirm that Berraj was a government informant in 2003. Berraj will flee Spain two days before the bombings and has not been seen since. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] About one month after the bombings, Fakhet will be killed with six of the other bombers after police surround their hideout (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).

Entity Tags: Abdelkader Farssaoui, Unidad Central de Informacion Exterior, Said Berraj, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

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

A Spanish court sentences a number of people to prison for connections to al-Qaeda. The main defendant, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, is convicted of leading an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid and conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks by hosting a meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and others (see July 8-19, 2001). He is sentenced to 27 years in prison. [New York Times, 9/27/2005] However, in 2006, Spain’s supreme court will overturn his 9/11 conspiracy conviction, after prosecutors reverse themselves and ask that the conviction be dismissed. One of the reasons for the dismissal is that the US, which possesses evidence supporting the convictions, is reluctant to provide it (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). This will leave Zacarias Moussaoui the only person in the world jailed for a role in the 9/11 attacks. Yarkas will still have to serve a 12-year sentence for leading an al-Qaeda cell. [London Times, 6/1/2006] Seventeen men besides Yarkas, mostly Syrians, are also found guilty and are given sentences of six to eleven years. One of these is Tayseer Allouni, a correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite network. He is convicted of giving $4,500 to a family of Syrian exiles in Afghanistan. The prosecutor alleged the family were al-Qaeda operatives, while Allouni argued he gave the money for humanitarian reasons. Two others, a Moroccan named Driss Chebli and a Syrian named Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, were acquitted of being involved in the 9/11 plot, but Chebli was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Ghalyoun was accused of videotaping the World Trade Center and other American landmarks in 1997 for the 9/11 plotters, but he claimed he was just a tourist (see 1998). [New York Times, 9/27/2005; Washington Post, 9/27/2005; Financial Times, 9/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Driss Chebli, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, Barakat Yarkas, Tayseer Allouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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