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Context of 'October 2001: Spain-based Al-Qaeda Operative Flees Despite Police Round-up'

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Said Berraj.Said Berraj. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]Five suspected al-Qaeda operatives, Said Berraj, Amer el-Azizi, Mohamed Haddad, Lahcen Ikassrien, and Salahedin Benyaich, are arrested in Turkey. They are arrested two weeks after arriving in Turkey, apparently for failing to produce identification papers. They are later released, but the reason for releasing them is unknown. Turkey is a transit center and logistics base for al-Qaeda (see November 1996-September 1998 and Mid-1996) and el-Azizi is said to operate there, as well as in Iran and, possibly, Iraq. Berraj, Haddad, and el-Azizi will later be involved in an attack in Madrid, Spain, that kills nearly 200 people (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and Benyaich will later be jailed in Morocco on terrorism charges following a bombing in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). El-Azizi will also apparently be involved in setting up a meeting where details of the 9/11 plot are finalized (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004; New York Times, 4/29/2004; New York Times, 4/30/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/14/2004] Ikassrien will be arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and sent to the Guantanamo prison. He will be released back to Spain in 2005, charged for al-Qaeda links, an acquitted. [Associated Press, 10/11/2006]
Possible Informants - Berraj is an informant for Spanish intelligence, regularly meeting with intelligence agents in 2003. It is unknown when he begins informing (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Haddad will not be arrested in Morocco after the 2004 train bombings despite strong evidence he was directly involved, leading to suspicions that he has been a government informant (see Shortly After March 18, 2004). El-Azizi also will be suspected of being a government informant because he is tipped off by Spanish intelligence about a police raid (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). He is also arrested in Turkey for passport forgery at one point, and then let go, although it is not clear when. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] Turkish intelligence is aware of extremists’ use of Turkey as a base (see 1996), but it is unclear whether this is related to the arrest of the three men. El-Azizi will repeatedly evade arrest in Spain after 9/11, apparently with the help of Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001).

Entity Tags: Lahcen Ikassrien, Said Berraj, Salahedin Benyaich, Mohamed Haddad, Amer el-Azizi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Some al-Qaeda operatives hold a meeting in northern Spain to finalize plans for the 9/11 attacks. Those allegedly present are listed below. The first two operatives listed are definitely present; it is less certain that the others are there:
bullet Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001]
bullet Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an associate of Atta from Hamburg, arrives in Spain on July 9, and stays until July 16. Spanish authorities are notified of his arrival in the country by German intelligence (see (Around July 9, 2001)). [New York Times, 5/1/2002]
bullet Some reports say that 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi attends, although if he does, he may use a false identity, as US immigration has no records of his departure or return. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002]
bullet The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia will later report that 9/11 hijackers Waleed and Wail Alshehri meet Atta on July 16. [Associated Press, 9/27/2001] However, there will be no mention of them attending the meeting in some other accounts. For example, their attendance will not be mentioned in the relevant section of the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5]
bullet Amer el-Azizi. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Associated Press, 1/23/2005] El-Azizi, who seems to have made preparations for the meeting, is under surveillance at this time, as Spanish authorities are listening in on his phone calls. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] Calls possibly related to the meeting’s organization were overheard (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon will later indict el-Azizi for helping plan 9/11 and say that he assisted the plotters by arranging accommodation for them and acting as a courier. However, US officials will be less certain of his involvement. [Associated Press, 1/23/2005] His arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (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).
bullet Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda-linked cell in Spain. [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003]
bullet Mohammed Belfatmi. Belfatmi is an associate of Yarkas, and lives near the hotels where Atta and bin al-Shibh stay. He will flee Europe just before 9/11 with Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg (see September 3-5, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12/2/2004]
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, associates of Atta’s from Germany.
bullet Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni.
bullet Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg. According to Spanish investigators, Bahaji is with Atta the entire time, and they both stay at the Monica Hotel. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
bullet 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). In 2002, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview bin al-Shibh and KSM together before either of them are arrested (see April, June, or August 2002). Neither bin al-Shibh nor KSM will discuss any details of the meeting with Fouda, including who attended. KSM will neither confirm nor deny he was there. However, in a 2003 book, Fouda will claim that, according to Spanish investigators, the initial attendees are Atta, bin al-Shibh, Bahaji, and a fourth man who might be KSM. They are later joined by Alshehhi and two unnamed others. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
However, there is a parallel meeting in Granada, in the south of Spain, at this time, and Yarkas, Darkazanli, Zammar, and Allouni may only be at that meeting, and may not meet Atta and bin al-Shibh in person (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After). [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003] After being captured, bin al-Shibh will deny meeting anyone other than Atta while in Spain. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5] However, questions will be raised about the quality of information obtained from detainees due to the methods—including torture—used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). The movements of Atta and his associates in Spain are apparently mirrored by those of FBI agents John O’Neill and Mark Rossini (see July 5-16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Wail Alshehri, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Amer el-Azizi, Yosri Fouda, Mohammed Belfatmi, Tayseer Allouni, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui writes the phone number of Amer el-Azizi in his notebook. El-Azizi is a Spain-based militant who is linked to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)) and is thought to have helped set up a meeting between Mohamed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Spain in July 2001 (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001). It is unclear when the number is written in Moussaoui’s notebook or what type of contact there is between Moussaoui and el-Azizi, if any. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004] However, the connection to el-Azizi does not appear to be mentioned at Moussaoui’s trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006), even though it would be one of very few pieces of evidence potentially tying Moussaoui to the 9/11 plot. The reason for this is unclear. El-Azizi’s arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (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: Amer el-Azizi, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Amer el-Azizi slipped surveillance after 9/11.Amer el-Azizi slipped surveillance after 9/11. [Source: El Pais]Amer el-Azizi, an al-Qaeda operative active in Spain, escapes a round-up of suspected al-Qaeda operatives by fleeing the country two weeks before arrests start to be made, even though he is under surveillance. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] El-Azizi, who had previously been arrested and released twice (see October 10, 2000), returns to Spain shortly after this and falls under police surveillance, but his arrest is frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). He goes on to play a role in the Madrid train bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When investigators search the home of Amer el-Azizi, a known al-Qaeda operative, they find an e-mail address that connects him to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). El-Azizi helped arrange a meeting between lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and an associate, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in the run-up to 9/11 (see July 8-19, 2001), although he was monitored by Spanish authorities at the time (see Before July 8, 2001) and arrested in Turkey in 2000 (see October 10, 2000). His arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (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). An indictment released in 2004 will say, “A fundamental document… connects Amer el-Azizi directly with those responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and concretely with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed via the e-mail address identified as Safar86@usa.net.” The e-mail address “was being used by an individual who facilitated trips for al-Qaeda members in direct connection with [KSM], organizer of the attacks.” A detainee will also later say that el-Azizi was in contact with the 9/11 plotters via e-mail. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] After 9/11, however, when the Spanish want to indict el-Azizi, the US will be reluctant to turn the information over to them, and it will take six months to get it. Despite this, problems persist in information sharing between the US and Spain and this has an impact on prosecutions (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

Amer el-Azizi, a leading al-Qaeda operative, is thought to re-enter Spain to activate a cell that carries out train bombings in Madrid in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), as he is seen by witnesses in Madrid after the attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] A senior Spanish investigator will say in 2004, “There are people who have seen el-Azizi here in Spain after the attacks. It looks like he came back and may have directed the others. If he was here, his background would make it likely that he was the top guy. We have reliable witness accounts that he was here in significant places connected to the plot. The idea of el-Azizi as a leader has become more solid.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] His fingerprints are found in a safe house first used by the bombers in 2002. A Spanish investigator will comment, “El-Azizi was the brains, he was the link between the [bombers and the rest of al-Qaeda.” [Irujo, 2005, pp. 218; Vidino, 2006, pp. 320-321] El-Azizi was arrested in Turkey in 2000 with several of the 2004 Madrid bombers, but they were released for an unspecified reason (see October 10, 2000). Spanish intelligence also frustrated his arrest after 9/11 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi

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

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