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Context of '2003: Figure Close to Madrid Bombings Mastermind Is Government Informant'

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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

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

Said Berraj will be considered closely involved in the Madrid train bombings plot (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and frequently runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombings. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). In 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents. It is not clear if or when he stops meeting with them. And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. He flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will later testify under oath as a protected witness that he accidentally sees Fakhet and Berrai meeting with his handlers in 2003, suggesting that Fakhet is an informant as well (see Shortly After October 2003).

Entity Tags: Abdelkader Farssaoui, Said Berraj, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

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

In 2006, the Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report that, according to their analysis, 34 out of the 40 people allegedly involved in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004) were under surveillance before the bombings. It reports 24 out of the 29 people arrested after the bombing, the seven who blew themselves up just after the bombing, and three of the four who fled Spain were under surveillance. Additionally, some of them are actually government informants before the bombing, though exactly how many remains murky. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006]
bullet Said Berraj is considered closely involved in the plot, and runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombing. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). Berraj flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. But in 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents (see 2003). And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007]
bullet Fakhet may also be an informant. A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, who is not part of the plot but informed on many of the plotters for two years (see September 2002-October 2003), will later claim under oath as a protected witness that he saw Fakhet and Berraj meeting with the same handlers who handled him, and at the same meeting place he used. Fakhet will be killed about one month after the bombing (see Shortly After October 2003).
bullet Mohamed Afalah also is an informant for Spanish intelligence. He is the driver, bodyguard, and confidante of Allekema Lamari, who the Spanish government calls the “emir” of the bombings. Afalah flees Spain on April 3 and also has not been found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] Curiously, some reports will later claim that he blows himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq in May 2005. [Guardian, 6/16/2005]
bullet There are allegations that Amer el-Azizi, who appears to be the bombers’ main al-Qaeda link (see Before March 11, 2004), is an informant. He appears to have been tipped off to a police raid by Spanish intelligence in late 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
bullet Mohamed Haddad, who eyewitnesses say may have been bringing one of the bombs to the train, may be an informant. He reportedly lives openly in Morocco after the bombings under curious conditions (for instance, he is not allowed to speak to reporters), but is not wanted by the Spanish authorities despite considerable evidence against him (see Shortly After March 18, 2004).
bullet Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a miner with access to explosives, buys the explosives for the bombings. He is an informant, but nonetheless will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
bullet Carmen Toro, wife of Trashorras. She allegedly helps sell the explosives used in the bombings, even though she is a police informant at the time (see September 2003-February 2004). She will be arrested but acquitted.
bullet Antonio Toro, brother of Carmen Toro. He also allegedly helps sell the explosives despite being an informant (see March 2003 and September 2003-February 2004). He also will be arrested but acquitted.
bullet Rafa Zouhier also is an informant. He works with Trashorras to get the explosives. He will be sentenced to a lengthy prison term for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
bullet Additionally, other informants who will not be arrested for being part of the plot follow the plotters. These include Safwan Sabagh, who constantly trails plot leader Allekema Lamari, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Smail Latrech, and Rabia Gaya (see 2002-March 10, 2004).
In some cases different government departments have their own investigations and informants and are not always sharing information with other departments. Some suspects are being followed by two or more departments, such as the Spanish police, Civil Guard, and the Spanish intelligence agency, the CNI. The El Mundo article will conclude, “Undoubtedly, the lack of coordination was a real factor and critical in allowing the terrorists to carry out their plans. However, that does not explain everything.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006] In November 2003, Spanish intelligence actually warns in a report that Lamari and Fakhet are leading a new attack in Spain on a significant target, but no apparent action is taken in response (see November 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Rabia Gaya, Rafa Zouhier, Said Berraj, Mohamed Haddad, Safwan Sabagh, Mohamed Afalah, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Smail Latrech, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Allekema Lamari, Amer el-Azizi, Antonio Toro, Carmen Toro, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, 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

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

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