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Profile: Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam

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Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam was a participant or observer in the following events:

Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, is the imam of a mosque in the town of Villaverde, near Madrid, Spain. In 2007, he will testify under oath as a protected witness that he was recruited to be a police informer beginning in late 2001, if not earlier. He says that he is also working as an informant for the government of Morocco, but he nonetheless becomes highly trusted for the Spanish. Apparently, he is little used by the Spanish until about September 2002. But starting that month, he informs on a group of men attending his mosque, led by Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. Other members in the group he watches include Said Berraj, Mustafa Maymouni (Fakhet’s brother-in-law), Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. He is also encouraged to bring Jamal Zougam closer to the group, although he does not see Zougam doing anything criminal. All of these men will later have alleged roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested in Morocco in 2003 for a key role in the Casablanca bombings there that year (see May 16, 2003). Even before Maymouni was arrested, Farssaoui has been giving warnings to his handlers that the group is talking about conducting attacks in Spain and Morocco (see April-June 2003). He is able to get the mobile phone numbers of all of the men so police can monitor those phones. Police do monitor the group members in other ways to confirm what Farssaoui is learning (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). In October 2003, Farssaoui reports that Fakhet is “looking for martyrs.” But Farssaoui is told by his handlers to immediately leave Madrid for another assignment (see October 2003). He does, so he stops monitoring the bombers just as they began planning their bombing in detail. He later says that his handlers forbid him to share what he learns with judge Baltasar Garzon, who is leading investigations into al-Qaeda related cases in Spain. They also encourage him to exaggerate what the suspects are doing so they can be indicted, and he does. This testimony Farssaoui will give in 2007 will contradict some details of earlier testimony he gave in the same trial, but he will claim that it took him time to find courage to tell the whole truth. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/18/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 10/21/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007; ABC (Spain), 3/7/2007] He will also claim that he later accidentally discovers Farket, the leader of the group he was watching, is also a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).

Entity Tags: Mariano Rayon, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Jamal Zougam, Unidad Central de Informacion Exterior, Said Berraj, Baltasar Garzon, Mustapha Maymouni, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Beginning on January 17, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Moutaz owns it but lives in London, so Mouhannad is the landlord and works there every day as well. Police were tipped off about the house earlier in the month by Mouhannad’s estranged wife. She revealed that a group of Islamist militants are regularly meeting there (see January 4, 2003). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Both Almallah brothers ties to known al-Qaeda figures such as Barakat Yarkas and radical imam Abu Qatada, and Moutaz moved to London in August 2002 to live with Qatada (see August 2002). In 2007, an unnamed Spanish police officer testifying in the Madrid bombings trial will give details about the surveillance of the apartment. He will call it an important place for both meetings and recruitment. The police note that both brothers travel frequently to and from London and also regularly call London. These calls are usually followed by calls to the Middle East or North Africa. Police are aware that Moutaz has no job in London and is in the circle of people around Abu Qatada (although Abu Qatada himself was arrested in late 2002 see (see October 23, 2002)). Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit live at the apartment and frequently meet there with Mouhannad Almallah and Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] Ghalyoun will later admit that in early 2003, Fakhet began to “talk of carrying out an attack in Spain, making jihad…” He will say that others attending jihad meetings at the apartment in 2003 include Arish Rifaat and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/15/2005] Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam is also frequently seen there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] The surveillance intensifies in subsequent months, and soon the apartment is monitored with video as well (see Spring 2003 and After). Police will keep watching the apartment until arrests are made after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Rifaat, Fakret, and others will allegedly blow themselves up shortly after the Madrid bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations Fakret was an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Mouhannad Almallah, Ghalyoun, ben Sellam, and el Morabit will be convicted in 2007 and each sentenced to 12 years for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Ahmed will be convicted of different charges in Italy (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, when the apartment is raided shortly after the Madrid bombings, two documents belonging to police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji will be found inside. Kalaji will admit to having a friendship with Moutaz Almallah dating back at least to 1995 (see May 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mouhannad Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Basel Ghalyoun, Abu Qatada, Fouad el Morabit, Barakat Yarkas, Arish Rifaat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: Takfir Wal Hijra, Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mustapha Maymouni, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Driss Chebli, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Amer el-Azizi, Baltasar Garzon, Hassan ben Sellam

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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