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Context of 'October 19, 2001: Madrid Bombings Mastermind Photographed with Head of Al-Qaeda in Spain'

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Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet.Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, later considered one of about three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), is already being monitored by Spanish intelligence. On this day, he is photographed with Barakat Yarkas, leader of al-Qaeda’s main cell in Spain. Yarkas will be arrested for an alleged role in the 9/11 attacks less than a month later (see November 13, 2001). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/16/2005] Fakhet had been under surveillance since 2000. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 182-186] He will allegedly blow himself up not long after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations that he was an informant at least by 2003 (see Shortly After October 2003). Also seen in the pictures are Yusuf Galan, another member of Yarkas’s cell who will be arrested with Yarkas and later convicted (see September 26, 2005), and Mouhannad Almallah, who has been under surveillance since at least 1998. Almallah will later be sentenced to 12 years in prison for a role in the Madrid bombings (see October 31, 2007). [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Barakat Yarkas, Mouhannad Almallah, Yusuf Galan

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

In early September 2001, an Egyptian militant named Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed moves from Germany to Spain. By December, Spanish officials open an investigation about him after noticing he is in frequent contact with other Islamist militants. One month later, Spanish investigators notify German officials that they have Ahmed under surveillance and request information about his background. Ahmed apparently is aware he is under surveillance and tries to keep a low profile. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004] But through him, investigators led by judge Baltasar Garzon begin monitoring other militants he meets. In May 2002, they start tapping the phones of Fouad el Morabit and Basel Ghalyoun. In June, they realize Ahmed is in contact with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who has already been under surveillance since 2000 (see October 19, 2001). They also learn at some point that he is in contact with the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Investigators lose track of el Morabit a near the end of 2002 when he changes phones. They also lose track of Ghalyoun aroun the same time because his conversations apparently are not interesting enough. Ahmed also moves to France. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/31/2005] However, in early 2003, investigators begin monitoring an apartment where all the suspects mentioned live or meet (see January 4, 2003). All of them will later be accused of being key players in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mouhannad Almallah, Basel Ghalyoun, Baltasar Garzon, Fouad el Morabit, Moutaz Almallah

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

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

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

Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed.Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [Source: Associated Press]The trial of 28 people accused of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings comes to an end, and 21 are found guilty. However, only three are convicted of murder and are given life sentences: Jamal Zougam, Othman El Gnaoui, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras. Seven of the principal bombers blew themselves up one month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). None of the accused confessed, making convictions difficult. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was accused of being the bombing mastermind. While living it Italy, he reportedly bragged, “I was the leader of Madrid,” and “the Madrid bombings were my project, and those who died as martyrs there were my beloved friends.” But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated and so they were thrown out as evidence. A counterterrorism expert says the court appeared to have a very strict standard of admissible evidence. However, Ahmed is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Italy based on unrelated charges. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004; MSNBC, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 11/1/2007] Many victims’ relatives complain that the sentences are too lenient. And a spokesperson for Spain’s main opposition party comments, “We still don’t know who gave the order, we still don’t know who built those bombs, and we still don’t know who was the coordinator of these cells that carried out these attacks.” [BBC, 11/1/2007] Some of the other verdicts:
bullet Hamid Ahmidan - 23 years.
bullet Rachid Aglif - 18 years.
bullet Abdelmajid Bouchar - 18 years.
bullet Basel Ghalyoun - 12 years.
bullet Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam - 12 years.
bullet Fouad el Morabit - 12 years.
bullet Mouhannad Almallah - 12 years.
bullet Rafa Zouhier - 10 years.
bullet Youssef Belhadj - 12 years.
bullet Antonio Toro - Acquitted.
bullet Carmen Toro - Acquitted. [El Mundo (Madrid), 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Rachid Aglif, Mouhannad Almallah, Othman El Gnaoui, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Rafa Zouhier, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Hamid Ahmidan, Abdelmajid Bouchar, Antonio Toro, Basel Ghalyoun, Carmen Toro, Fouad el Morabit, Jamal Zougam, Youssef Belhadj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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