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Context of 'May 22, 1997: Spanish Intelligence Learns Madrid Cell Is Sending Recuits to Al-Qaeda Training Camps, Takes No Action'

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Barakat Yarkas.Barakat Yarkas. [Source: Public domain]The Spanish government begins monitoring an al-Qaeda cell based in Madrid and led by Barakat Yarkas. The cell members call themselves the “Soldiers of Allah.” The New York Times will later report that a document listing telephone intercepts “makes clear that Spanish intelligence has been watching Mr. Yarkas and listening to him in his interactions with other suspected al-Qaeda operatives around Europe and Asia since at least 1997.” [New York Times, 11/20/2001] In fact, Spain begins monitoring the cell in 1995, if not earlier. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 23-40] The cell formed in the early 1990s, and the members distributed literature at a Madrid mosque about the activities of Islamist militants, including communiqués issued by Osama bin Laden. They indoctrinate some young Muslims who were interested, and recruit several to fight in Bosnia. Yarkas and others in the cell pose as middle-class businesspeople, but they also are observed committing a variety of crimes to raise money for al-Qaeda (see Late 1995 and After). Yarkas frequently travels, going to such countries as Turkey, Belgium, Sweden, Jordan, Denmark, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He makes more than 20 trips to Britain. By 1998, he is in contact with members of the same al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg that contains participants in the 9/11 plot such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. But while Spanish intelligence shares their surveillance with the CIA, they do not inform German intelligence (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). In 1998, a Saudi millionaire named Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi moves to Spain and interacts with members of the cell, and soon the Spanish begin monitoring him too. It will later be alleged that Zouaydi is a key al-Qaeda financier. In July 2001, Spanish intelligence will hear members of the cell planning for a meeting in Spain that is attended by Atta and others, but apparently they will fail to monitor the meeting itself (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001). In 2003, the Spanish government will charge a number of people they claim are members of the cell. Some will be convicted for having al-Qaeda ties, and some will not. Yarkas will get a 25-year sentence (see September 26, 2005). Most of the evidence against them will actually have been collected before 9/11. [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Al-Qaeda, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1995, a Spanish intelligence agency begins monitoring Moutaz Almallah as it starts monitoring the al-Qaeda Madrid cell led by Barakat Yarkas (see 1995 and After). Almallah is considered Yarkas’s main assistant and also is the “political chief” of the cell. In 1998, Almallah and Yarkas were photographed at an airport in Spain meeting with Mohamed Bahaiah, known to be a courier for bin Laden. Judge Baltasar Garzon leads the investigation. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; BBC, 3/24/2005] In November 1995, Spanish police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji, a Spanish citizen originally from Syria, sells an apartment to Almallah. Kalaji will later admitting to having a long time acquaintance with Almallah. Kalaji has a suspicious background, including a connection to Soviet espionage, and at some point he serves as Garzon’s bodyguard (see May 16, 2005). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/22/2005] In November 2001, Garzon will arrest Yarkas and the main figures in his cell, but Almallah will not be arrested (see November 13, 2001). [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] Almallah 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. In 2005, a police commissioner will request the arrest of police officer Kalaji, but a judge will deny the request (see May 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Ayman Maussili Kalaji, Mohamed Bahaiah, Baltasar Garzon, Moutaz Almallah, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Spanish intelligence is monitoring an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid led by Barakat Yarkas (see 1995 and After). By late 1995, Spanish authorities discover the cell members are taking part in a variety of criminal acts, including credit card theft, stealing bank account numbers, and selling stolen cars. Some of the money raised is being used to send recruits to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. However, the authorities are content to merely watch this criminal activity and collect information. None of the cell members will be arrested until after 9/11, six years later. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 23-40]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mustafa Setmarian Nasar.Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Spanish intelligence learns that al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, has visited Mamoun Darkazanli in Hamburg this year. Darkazanli is an associate of the 9/11 hijackers living in Hamburg. The Spanish are aware of Nasar due to his links to Barakat Yarkas, as Yarkas and his Madrid cell are being monitored (see 1995 and After). It is unknown if the Spanish realize that Nasar is an important al-Qaeda leader at this time, but they do learn that he met Osama bin Laden. [National Review, 5/21/2004; Brisard and Martinez, 2005, pp. 109-110, 195] Nasar receives $3,000 from Darkazanli while living in Britain in 1995 through 1996. This is according to German police documents, and it is unknown if German and/or Spanish authorities are aware of this link at the time. [Chicago Tribune, 7/12/2005] In 1998, the Spanish will discover that Darkazanli and Yarkas are in frequent phone contact with each other. They share their information with the CIA (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). Nasar leaves Britain in 1996 after realizing the British authorities suspect his involvement in a series of 1995 bombings in France (see July-October 1995). [National Review, 5/21/2004] He will be arrested in Pakistan in 2005 after the US announces a $5 million reward for his capture (see October 31, 2005).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, Mamoun Darkazanli

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Spanish intelligence has been monitoring an al-Qaeda cell based in Madrid led by Barakat Yarkas (see 1995 and After), and they are aware that a leader of the cell named Chej Salah left Spain in late 1995 and moved to Peshawar, Pakistan. He serves there as an al-Qaeda talent scout, sending the most promising recruits to a training camp in Afghanistan. Yarkas’s cell is recruiting youths in Spanish mosques to join al-Qaeda. On May 22, 1997, the Spanish monitor a phone call in which Salah tells Yarkas that the recruits he is sending are being taken care of by al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Despite such knowledge, the Spanish government will not arrest any members of the Madrid cell until after 9/11. This is according to a book by Jose María Irujo, lead investigative journalist for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 23-40]

Entity Tags: Chej Salah, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Abu Zubaida, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Barakat Yarkas (a.k.a. Abu Dahdah).Barakat Yarkas (a.k.a. Abu Dahdah). [Source: Associated Press]A German newspaper will later note, “For much of the 1990s, the Spanish ran an impressive operation against a Madrid al-Qaeda cell, led by Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah. Wiretaps on Yarkas’s phone had revealed that he was in regular contact with [Mohammed Haydar] Zammar and [Mamoun] Darkazanli.” Spanish intelligence began monitoring Yarkas’ cell in 1997, if not earlier (see 1995 and After). It shares this information with the CIA, but not with German intelligence. The CIA also fails to share the information with Germany. A top German intelligence official will later complain, “We simply don’t understand why they didn’t give it to us.” [Stern, 8/13/2003] Spanish intelligence monitors dozens of telephone calls between Darkazanli in Hamburg and suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Spain starting at least by August 1998. On at least four occasions, Darkazanli is monitored as he travels to Spain and visits Yarkas and Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (who will be arrested in Spain in 2002 on charges of being a key al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002)). [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003] For instance, at the end of January 2000, Darkazanli is monitored by Spanish intelligence as he meets with Yarkas and some other some suspected al-Qaeda figures. Because the CIA and Spanish intelligence fail to share any of this surveillance information with German intelligence, the Germans are unable to see clear links between Hamburg al-Qaeda operatives and the rest of the al-Qaeda network in Europe. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] The Spanish will continue to monitor Yarkas and those he communicates with until 9/11, and in fact, in late August 2001 one of his associates will apparently make an oblique reference to the 9/11 attacks (see August 27, 2001).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Mamoun Darkazanli, Germany, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Barakat Yarkas, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Parlindungan Siregar.Parlindungan Siregar. [Source: El Pais]Parlindungan Siregar, an Indonesian, has been studying in Spain since 1987, and has begun working with Barakat Yarkas, head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid. In October 2000, he returns to Indonesia, but remains in constant phone contact with Yarkas. Spanish intelligence has been monitoring Yarkas’s phone calls for years (see 1995 and After). Linking with Indonesian militants, Siregar begins organizing an al-Qaeda training camp near the town of Poso, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 224-225] Soon thereafter, Madrid cell member Yusuf Galan is monitored as he receives e-mails from Siregar assessing the situation in Indonesia. For instance, one e-mail says, “You can do many things here. With only five million pesetas ($50,000 dollars), we can buy an island of 200 hectares that would be very useful. But our main need now is the weapons. Remember that everything we do should approach toward jihad.” [El Pais, 7/15/2007] In May 2001, Yarkas travels to Indonesia to assess the new camp, called Camp Mujahidin. By the time he arrives, there already are some recruits being trained, including an Australian citizen. Impressed, Yarkas returns to Spain and makes arrangements for al-Qaeda to properly fund the camp. Galan brings the money to Siregar at the camp in July 2001. However, the Spanish government does not share any of what it learned with the Indonesian government until November 2001, when the allegations are made public as part of some Spanish indictments (see November 13, 2001). But the camp is shut down shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and by November, Siregar and other operatives cannot be found. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 224-225] Siregar will later be linked to the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). In 2007, it will be reported that he is one of the most wanted al-Qaeda figures world-wide and on many wanted lists. [El Pais, 7/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Parlindungan Siregar, Barakat Yarkas, Al-Qaeda, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Yusuf Galan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

European operatives connected to al-Qaeda appear to be making preparations for a summit between lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Spain to finalize the details of the 9/11 plot (see July 8-19, 2001). As these European operatives are known to Spanish authorities, the preparations are monitored. For example, a conversation between operatives Barakat Yarkas and Amer el-Azizi is overheard. However, Spanish authorities do not pass this information on to their German counterparts. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] El-Azizi is also overheard talking to an Algerian, possibly Mohammed Belfatmi, based in Tarragona, where Atta stays for part of the time he is in Spain. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] In one recorded conversation between Yarkas and another militant, Yarkas says that “Amer”—presumably a reference to Amer al-Azizi—is handling the arrangements for a meeting. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] Police will later find el-Azizi’s address book; it contains the names of three contacts in the small town of Reus, where bin al-Shibh landed when he flew in from Germany. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004] These European operatives hold a parallel meeting elsewhere in Spain (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After) and some may also meet with Atta and bin al-Shibh (see July 8-19, 2001). El-Azizi’s arrest will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence after 9/11 (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Belfatmi, Spanish intelligence, Amer el-Azizi, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In searches conducted shortly after the 9/11 attacks, investigators discover direct links between the 9/11 hijacker cell in Hamburg and the Madrid al-Qaeda cell led by Barakat Yarkas. German police find Yarkas’s phone number in papers belong to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. His number is also found in the diary of Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Irujo, 2005, pp. 150-153] Investigators also find many videos of sermons by Abu Qatada in the apartment where Atta and other members of the Hamburg cell used to live. Qatada is already closely linked to Yarkas and his Madrid cell (see 1995-February 2001). [Guardian, 8/11/2005] Since Spanish intelligence had been monitoring Yarkas’s call since 1995 (see 1995 and After), it is unknown if they ever monitored a call between Yarkas and Atta or Bahaji. However, no such calls will be mentioned in subsequent trials in Spain. The Spanish did monitor numerous calls between Yarkas and Hamburg associates Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). For years, the Spanish have merely been monitoring Yarkas’s cell. But after discovering these links, the decision is made to shut the cell down. Yarkas and others are arrested in November 2001 (see November 13, 2001). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 162-163] Qatada has been an informant for British intelligence since about 1997; it is unknown if he told his British handlers anything about the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Abu Qatada, Mohamed Atta, Said Bahaji

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Baltasar Garzon.Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Associated Press]Spanish intelligence has been watching an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid for years, and has been aware since 1995 that cell members are committing a variety of crimes in Spain (see 1995 and After and Late 1995 and After), but none of them have ever been arrested. Finally, after investigators find links between the cell and the 9/11 hijacker cell in Hamburg (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), the decision is made to shut the cell down. On November 13, 2001 Spanish police arrest cell leader Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a., Abu Dahdah, and ten other alleged members of his cell, including Yusuf Galan and Mohamed Needl Acaid. Spanish police, led by judge Baltasar Garzon, appear confident that they smashed the al-Qaeda presence in Spain. However, a number of suspects are left at large who will go on to take part in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see November 13, 2001). [New York Times, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/26/2004] Yarkas, Galan, Acaid, and others will be convicted for various crimes in 2005 (see September 26, 2005).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Yusuf Galan, Baltasar Garzon, Barakat Yarkas, Mohamed Needl Acaid

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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