Profile: Amer el-Azizi
Amer el-Azizi was a participant or observer in the following events:
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).
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).
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:
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001]
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]
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]
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]
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).
Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda-linked cell in Spain. [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003]
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]
Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, associates of Atta’s from Germany.
Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni.
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]
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).
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).
Amer el-Azizi, a senior al-Qaeda operative whose arrest was frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), is said to meet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who leads a group of foreign fighters in the Iraq war. One meeting may take place after 9/11 in 2001, when el-Azizi reportedly travels to Iran, intending to enter eastern Afghanistan. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] According to communications intercepts, another may take place in Iran in 2003, and some evidence indicates el-Azizi may also go to Iraq around this time. In addition, el-Azizi sponsors two recruits who train at a camp run by al-Zarqawi, according to documents obtained by the Spanish police. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] El-Azizi and al-Zarqawi also have a common acquaintance, Abdulatif Mourafiq, an associate of al-Zarqawi’s in Afghanistan whose contact details were found in el-Azizi’s flat when it was raided in October or November 2001. [Brisard, 2005]
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]
On November 13, 2001 Spanish police arrest cell leader Barakat Yarkas and ten other alleged members of his cell. Spanish police, led by judge Baltasar Garzon, appear confident that they have smashed the al-Qaeda presence in Spain (see November 13, 2001). However, a number of likely suspects are left at large:
Moutaz Almallah. Spanish police will later say that he had contacts with Yarkas as far back as 1995, the year police began to monitor Yarkas. He is said to have served as the “political chief” of Yarkas’s cell. He and Yarkas were seen meeting with an al-Qaeda courier in 1998. He 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 but has yet to be tried (see August 2002). Curiously, in 1995, a police officer who also served as Garzon’s bodyguard, sold Almallah an apartment and stayed friends with him (see November 1995). [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; BBC, 3/24/2005]
Amer el-Azizi, who may have had a role in the 9/11 plot, is able to flee a police raid due to a tip-off from Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
Jamal Zougam, even though he has been under suspicion since 2000, and has been tied to al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada and Mohammed Fazazi, who preached at the mosque attended by the 9/11 hijackers (see 2000-Early March 2004). [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Irujo, 2005, pp. 162-164] A French investigator had warned Spanish intelligence in June 2001 that Zougam was an important Islamist militant in a number of countries and that he should be arrested (see June 2001). Zougam’s Madrid apartment was searched by police on August 10, 2001, and investigators found phone numbers of three other members of the cell, plus a video of mujaheddin fighters in Chechnya. [Associated Press, 3/17/2004]
Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. Spanish intelligence began monitoring him in 2000 for his links to other members of the cell. He was photographed with Yarkas in October 2001 (see October 19, 2001). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 182-186] Another informant who later appears as a protected witness will claim that Fakhet was also a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).
Said Chedadi is arrested, but is later released. He had been monitored traveling to London with Yarkas and giving money to Qatada. He will go on to have a role in the Madrid bombings (see 1995-February 2001). He also is roommates with Dris Chebli up until Chebli is arrested in June 2003 (see April-June 2003). [New York Times, 11/14/2001; El Mundo (Madrid), 10/27/2004]
El-Azizi flees overseas, but allegedly instructs the other cell members not arrested to constitute new cells in Madrid and Morocco. Fakhet becomes a leader of the new cells. Even though the vast majority of those not arrested remain under surveillance, including Fakhet and Zougam (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004), they are able to stage the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Fakhet will blow himself up shortly after those bombings, while Zougam will get life in prison for his role. El-Azizi has yet to be captured. Yarkas and most of the others arrested with him will be convicted for al-Qaeda ties in 2005 and given prison terms (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 165-174] A Spanish investigator will later call Yarkas the mastermind of the Madrid bombings even though he was in prison since 2001, because virtually all of the bombers were connected to him in some way. “It is very clear to me, that if by mastermind we mean the person who has put the group together, prepared the group, trained it ideologically, sent them to Afghanistan to be prepared militarily for terrorism, that man is [Yarkas], without any doubt.” [New York Times, 10/26/2004]
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).
Spanish investigators and prosecutors attempting to jail people they believe are important al-Qaeda operatives seek US assistance, but the US fails to provide them with full co-operation. Spanish authorities started to build a case against a Spain-based al-Qaeda cell headed by Barakat Yarkas in the 1990s and some of the suspects were under surveillance as they allegedly assisted the 9/11 plot (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). The US has some information about them, but does not release what the Spanish need because the US apparently does not want to fight terrorism through law enforcement, but through more direct methods. A Spanish official says, “From the US point of view, everything is an intelligence affair, not a judicial matter… That is what is undermining the whole process.” In 2004, the Spanish official complains: “We could clearly prove the Spanish role in 9/11 if we had real cooperation. There are literally two or three elements missing to close the case, but as it is now, all of the suspects will go free.” One key dispute centers on US unwillingness to share evidence linking Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Amer el-Azizi to the 9/11 plot and Spanish officials spend six months persuading the US before getting a copy of a “specific element that provides a concrete link” between el-Azizi and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)). In addition, the US fails to provide information identifying Saudi Arabian investors in Spanish construction companies owned by a Syrian businessman, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, another suspected militant who is thought to have channeled money to extremists through his group of companies, as well as suspicious Islamic charities. [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2004] This lack of co-operation hinders the prosecutions of the operatives and means they receive only relatively light sentences. For example, Yarkas is initially found guilty of both terrorism in Spain and assisting the 9/11 plot, but his 9/11 conviction is overturned on appeal (see September 26, 2005).
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:
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.
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.
She saw her husband open several boxes and noticed they contained books and videos about Osama bin Laden.
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).
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.”
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).
Both Mouhannad and Fakhet remain in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail. Her husband’s brother Moutaz does as well.
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).
Spanish police have been monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah since January 17, 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police are now aware that the Almallah brothers are part of a group of Islamist militants regularly meeting there. On March 3, police extend the surveillance to the apartment of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, since he appears to be a leader of the group and the group holds meetings at his apartment as well (see March 3, 2003-March 2004). On March 14, police also start monitoring Mouhannad Almallah’s apartment (his brother Moutaz is mostly living in London) (see March 14, 2003). Over the next months, the surveillance of this group is intensified:
Police also keep a very close eye on the cars used by the militants. Police witness many of them taking evasive maneuvers while driving around town.
They notice the militants are taking evasive action such as frequently using pay phones and speaking in code, which are signs they are taking part in illegal activities.
They discover that Amer el-Azizi, a Spanish al-Qaeda operative wanted for a role in the 9/11 attacks, had probably escaped to Afghanistan in late 2001 using Mouhannad Almallah’s passport (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
They find that Fakhet sometimes uses a car owned by relatives of Jamal Ahmidan (Ahmidan is the member of the group who will later lead the effort to buy the explosives for the Madrid bombings, see September 2003-February 2004).
One police report before the bombings says that all three apartments are “regarded as essential points of the logistical network to support the recruitment of ‘mujaheddin’” in Spain and that Moutaz Almallah makes the group an international threat, with links in Britain and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005]
In April 2003, Spanish police alert judge Baltasar Garzon to the existence of an Islamist militant cell in Madrid. Garzon has generally led al-Qaeda related investigations in Spain. An intelligence report to Garzon details a cell led by Mustapha Maymouni. Its assistant leaders are said to be Driss Chebli, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, and the brothers Hassan and Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam. The cell is linked to the radical Takfir Wal Hijra movement and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG). The MICG is said to be led by Amer el-Azizi, who escaped arrest in Spain (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him. The cell has links to el-Azizi as well. In fact, the wife of one of the cell members recently told the authorities that Fakhet and others are staying in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail (see January 4, 2003), a lead that apparently is not pursued. In May 2003, suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, kill 45, and the MICG is quickly identified as the group behind the attacks. Maymouni had gone to Morocco just before the bombings and is arrested there later in May (see Late May-June 19, 2003). On June 25, 2003, Chebli is arrested in Spain for his links to the Casablanca bombings. He will later be accused of a minor role in the 9/11 plot and sentenced to six years in prison (see September 26, 2005). However, the others are not arrested at this time. The police who are monitoring Fakhet will later say they do not understand why Fakhet at least was not arrested after the Casablanca bombings due to his link to Maymouni, who is his brother-in-law. Authorities will claim he was not arrested because there was no evidence he was involved in any plot. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/3/2007] However, this cell is being monitored by a variety of means, including the use of
an informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena (see October 2002-June 2003). Even before the Casablanca bombings, Farssaoui tells his handlers that this cell is discussing launching attacks in Morocco and Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/18/2004] Furthermore, a 2002 report said that Fakhet was preparing for “violent action” (see 2002). Farssaoui will later claim that he came across evidence that Fakhet was also an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Fakhet will take over leadership of the group after Maymouni’s arrest and will lead most of them in carrying out the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
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]
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).
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]
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]
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).
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]
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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. [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]
The estranged wife of Mouhannad Almallah goes to the judge in charge of the Madrid train bombings investigation and tells him that her husband had been planning attacks in Madrid. So far Jamal Zougam is the main suspect known to the public, as his arrest was announced three days before (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). She says that her husband knew Zougam and talked about doing business with him in Morocco. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007] A police officer confirms to the judge that she had already discussed many of these connections with police in January and February 2003. At that time, she named her husband, his brother Moutaz Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Basel Ghalyoun, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Ahmidan, and others (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). These men will turn out to be most of the key players in the train bombings. All of them have been under surveillance for over a year at her apartment and elsewhere (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). She tells the judge additional details about the Almallah brothers’ links to Abu Qatada, an imam linked to al-Qaeda (see August 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] Seemingly, her account, plus all the data collected from monitoring these suspects prior to the bombing, should be enough evidence to arrest the suspects. Strangely, many of the suspects continue to live where they lived before the bombing, and continue to use the same phones as before. For instance, Ahmidan, whom she named, lives at the same residence as before until March 18 (see March 27-30, 2004). But there seems to be no urgent effort to arrest or monitor them, nor are their names or pictures published until March 30. In fact, the apartment where Mouhannad Almallah and his wife lived that was monitored for over a year is not raided until March 24 (see March 24-30, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
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