Category Archives: First media reports

Bombers blow themselves up as police raid their Madrid hideout

Bombers blow themselves up as police raid their Madrid hideout

By Isambard Wilkinson in Madrid and Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
(Filed: 05/04/2004

The Spanish government claimed last night to have smashed the terrorist cell responsible for the Madrid train bombings after the suspected mastermind blew himself up with four accomplices as a crack anti-terrorist unit tried to raid their hideout.

Forensic experts examining the devastated block of flats in the Madrid suburb of Leganes believe that the gang leader, 35-year-old Serhane ben Abdelmajid Farkhet, known as “The Tunisian”, was among those who killed themselves.

Angel Acebes, the interior minister, claimed that the deaths on Saturday night, along with a spate of arrests following the murder of 191 people on Madrid commuter trains, meant the terrorist cell had been virtually destroyed.

Serhane ben Abdelmajid Farkhet

“The core group of those who carried out the terrorist act have been detained or died in the collective suicide,” Mr Acebes said.

“We have to highlight the magnificent work done by the security forces.”

Mr Acebes said he believed that further attacks planned by the cell had been averted by the death of Farkhet. Police said at least 22lb of dynamite and 200 detonators of the type used in the railway attacks had been found in the flat.

The badly mutilated body of one militant was found at the bottom of the flats’ communal swimming pool still wearing an explosive belt of the type used by Palestinian suicide bombers.

“They were going to keep on attacking because some of the explosives were prepared, packed and connected to detonators,” Mr Acebes said. The gang was also responsible for planting an unexploded bomb on the tracks of the Madrid-Seville high-speed train on Friday, he said.

Despite his confidence, Mr Acebes was leaving himself a hostage to fortune as he admitted that two or three of the gang may have escaped the siege in Leganes before the area could be sealed. Spanish officials issued three new names of men they wish to trace.

Last month, Mr Acebes helped to stoke public anger against the centre-Right government of Jose Maria Aznar by insisting for days that the Madrid attacks were the work of the Basque separatist group Eta.

The Socialists, led by the prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, were swept to power partly by the wave of anger that swept through Spain after the Madrid bombings – which many blamed on Spain’s involvement in Iraq.

Mr Zapatero says he will withdraw Spanish peacekeepers from Iraq after a new government is installed in Baghdad, but he is under strong pressure from the United States and Britain not to undermine the political transition.

Spanish investigators, tracing the SIM card of a mobile telephone that had been rigged as a timer on an unexploded bomb in the March 11 Madrid commuter attacks, have so far charged 15 people.

Of those charged before Saturday night’s raid, six have been charged with mass murder and nine others with collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist organisation. Eleven are Moroccan.

Police believe that the cell is linked to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which appears to be connected to, or at least inspired, by al-Qa’eda.

On Saturday evening, security forces traced the whereabouts of the cell’s mastermind to the southern multi-ethnic suburb of Leganes. But as security forces attempted to move residents discreetly out of the area, they were spotted by the gunmen, who opened fire.

As they exchanged shots, they shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great). After a two-hour siege, a unit of the the Grupo Especial Operaciones (GEO), Spain’s special anti-terrorist unit, tried to blast its way into the first-floor flat.

But as the first officer entered, the gang members set off a bomb and blew themselves up, also killing one policemen and wounding 11 others.

The special forces policeman killed was named as 41-year-old Javier Torrontera. He was married and had two children.

Working under floodlights, with a hydraulic beam holding up the devastated four-storey building, forensic officers picked their way through the rubble in search of evidence.

Farkhet was among six people whose arrest was ordered last week by the Spanish investigating judge Juan del Olmo.

The warrant describes him as the “leader and co-ordinator” of the suspects. It said he had been an active campaigner for jihad since as early as mid-2003.

Another man on the warrant list, Abdennabi Kounjaa, a Moroccan, was identified as being among the dead.

A third body, that of Asri Rifaat Anouar, did not appear on the list. Police were trying to establish whether another body was that of a wanted man, Jamal Ahmidan, a 34-year-old Moroccan known as “The Chinaman”.

Yesterday afternoon, police searching for explosives were examining a car parked near the building where the five suspects blew themselves up. The vehicle belonged to one of the dead bombers, an interior ministry official said.

Mr Acebes would not say how the suspects were tracked down, but El Pais newspaper said police traced them through a mobile phone call from the apartment.

Officers will now concentrate on examining any links the bombers had with other terrorist groups, Mr Acebes said.

Spain remains on a state of alert since the Madrid bombings, with the army, police and national railway company Renfe operating a permanent surveillance system.

Piecing together Madrid bombers’ past

Piecing together Madrid bombers’ past

BBC News 5 April, 2004

 A picture is emerging of the shadowy figures suspected of being behind the 11 March Madrid bombings.

Of the six named on international arrest warrants, at least two died in an explosion at a flat in Madrid on Saturday as anti-terrorist police surrounded the building.

The supposed ringleader Serhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, 35, is reported to be the one who set off the bomb, destroying the besieged apartment, killing himself and four colleagues.

Another key figure, Jamal Ahmidan, 33, thought to be one of the cell commanders with links to al-Qaeda, also died in the blast.

Neighbours who lived near Fakhet, and many of the other suspects, had little reason to think that they were militants with a fundamentalist agenda.

Many of them appeared westernised and integrated into the Spanish community, with a liking for football, fashion, drinking and Spanish girlfriends, say Spanish press reports.


Neighbours said they were always polite, although sometimes hid their faces.

Fakhet, known as El Tunecino or The Tunisian, had been in Spain for eight years.

Jamal Ahmidan
Ahmidan, known as El Chino or Mowgli, was a westernised Moroccan

He had initially left Tunisia to study economics at Madrid University but later abandoned his studies.

He had worked in Tetuan in Morocco buying and selling flats and was last known to have been living in a middle class suburb of Madrid.

Press reports say he lived with a 16-year-old Moroccan girl.

Unlike some of his more westernised colleagues, he is said to have been a religious fanatic whose beliefs had been recently radicalised, shunning Madrid’s main mosques for their moderate stance.

The international arrest warrant names him as the "main dynamic element for raising the call for jihad, or holy war, among the people of his group".

Key figure

El Mundo claims that police say Fakhet started to show "clear signs" of preparation for an attack in Madrid in 2003, influenced by communiques released by Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

Investigating Judge Juan del Olmo believes Fakhet, using a false Belgian passport under the name Youssef Ben Salah, helped Ahmidan rent a farm in Morata de Tajuna near Madrid where the train bomb devices were prepared.

Little is known about Ahmidan, known as El Chino or Mowgli, except that his family owns clothes shops in the Lavapies area of Madrid.

El Pais quotes investigation sources as saying that Ahmidan had a key role in the 11 March attacks but did not actually plant any of the bombs.

Ahmidan is also said to have seemed happily integrated in Spanish society, whose Spanish friends are said to have included women who sported crop tops, tattoos and piercings.

Madrid attacks timeline

Madrid attacks timeline

BBC News, 12 March 2004

The devastating terror attacks in Madrid saw 10 bombs explode on four trains in three stations during the busy morning rush hour.

Each of the trains was laden with commuters; office workers, students and schoolchildren.

Three of the trains set off from Alcala de Henares, about 12km to the east of Madrid. The fourth originated from Guadalajara, but passed through the station en route for the city.

Police later discovered a stolen van containing seven detonators and an Arabic language tape near the station.

  • All of the trains left Alcala de Henares within 15 minutes of each other, from 0600GMT onwards.
  • As each train passed through the station, investigators say, the bombers loaded rucksacks each containing about 10 kg (22 lb) of explosives onboard.
  • At 0639, as the first train drew to a halt inside Atocha station, three bombs exploded in the third, fourth and sixth carriages. At least 34 people were killed and scores wounded.

    Detailed maps of where the blasts took place


  • Almost simultaneously, four bombs detonated in the first, fourth and sixth carriages of the second train about 500m outside the station. At least 59 people were killed and scores wounded. This train was running two minutes late. Investigators believe the bombers intended to set the bombs off on both trains inside the station simultaneously to maximise their power and cause severe damage to the building.

    Emergency services set up an temporary hospital at a sports centre on Tellez street close to Atocha station to deal with hundreds of injured people.

    Police also carried out controlled explosions on three other unexploded devices found at the station.

  • At 0641, two bombs went off in the fourth and fifth carriages of the third train as it passed through El Pozo station, back down the line from Atocha. At least 70 people were killed and many more wounded.
  • At about 0642, the fourth train was passing through Santa Eugenia station when a bomb exploded in the fourth carriage, killing at least 17 people and wounding dozens.
  • Each device was detonated by mobile phone, investigators believe.
  • At each station, emergency services set up temporary hospitals to treat the injured. More serious casualties were ferried to hospital by helicopter.
  • At 0840 the Spanish Red Cross put out an urgent appeal for blood amid dwindling supplies. The Interior Ministry warned motorists to stay off the capital’s roads to allow the swift transfer of the wounded to hospital.
  • By 0927 all incoming trains were stopped due to fears of further explosions.