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Context of 'Before July 8, 2001: Monitored European Operatives Appear to Prepare for 9/11 Summit'

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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

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

At the same time as Mohamed Atta and one of his associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, meet in the north of Spain to finalize the details of the 9/11 plot (see July 8-19, 2001), other al-Qaeda operatives hold a parallel meeting in Granada, in the south of the country. Spanish authorities are monitoring some of these operatives, at least, and overhear their discussions. On July 6, the Spanish intercept a call from Mamoun Darkazanli, an associate of Atta’s from Germany, to Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain, in which Darkazanli says that he has arrived in Granada. Yarkas tells Darkazanli that he has arrived in the city on July 10. They are joined by Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni and possibly Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a relative of Allouni’s wife and associate of Atta and Darkazanli from Germany. The Spanish later overhear a conversation in which Yarkas discusses Zammar’s movements at this time. Spanish authorities will later doubt that these four operatives actually meet Atta and bin al-Shibh in Spain, but will suspect a connection between the two meetings, especially as Yarkas seems to have made preparations for the other meeting (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003; Miles, 2005, pp. 305-313]

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Barakat Yarkas, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Tayseer Allouni

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

Ramzi bin al-Shibh.Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: US Department of State]German authorities notify their Spanish counterparts of a trip by Ramzi bin al-Shibh to Spain, where he meets an associate, lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta (see July 8-19, 2001). Presumably, the notification is before or soon after the trip, but the original news report merely says, “Despite the fact that the German authorities informed Spain of Ramzi’s trip, the meeting in which the 11 September attacks were finalized was not detected.” Several of bin al-Shibh’s German associates are known to have been under surveillance around this time (see 1996, November 1, 1998-February 2001, and May 22, 2000), and, if the article if correct, this indicates that bin al-Shibh’s movements are also being monitored by German intelligence. Spanish authorities are monitoring some operatives who may interact with Atta and bin al-Shibh in Spain (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001), but the Spanish apparently do not conduct surveillance of the two men. [BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Spanish intelligence, German intelligence community, Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

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

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

The Casa de Spain was one of the bombed buildings in Casablanca.The Casa de Spain was one of the bombed buildings in Casablanca. [Source: Associated Press]Twelve suicide bombers attack five targets in Casablanca, Morocco, including a Jewish cultural center. Forty-five people are killed, including most of the bombers. Moroccan authorities link the bombers to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG), which is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. After the attacks, Moroccan officials sentence two surviving bombers to death and round up thousands of people suspected of having ties to terrorism. [PBS Frontline, 1/25/2005] The suspected mastermind, Saad al-Houssaini, has extensive al-Qaeda ties and lived in Afghanistan for four years before 9/11. He will be captured in 2007. [Washington Post, 7/7/2007] The leader of the MICG is said to be Amer el-Azizi, who has links to the 9/11 attacks and the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Before July 8, 2001 and Before March 11, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Some of the other leaders of the bombings are also said to be linked to the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Also, Mohammed Fazazi, a radical imam who preached at the Hamburg mosque attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers, will be convicted for a role in the bombings (see 1993-Late 2001). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 241-242]

Entity Tags: Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, Mohammed Fazazi, Al-Qaeda, Amer el-Azizi, Saad al-Houssaini

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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