Category Archives: Later press reports

Two Madrid bombing suspects ‘were informants’

Spain suspects ‘were informants’

Damaged train
The Madrid attacks were the worst of their kind in Europe

BBC, 29 April 2004

The Spanish interior ministry says it is investigating reports that two suspects in the 11 March Madrid train bombings were police informants.

The move came after Spain’s El Mundo newspaper said Moroccan Rafa Zuher and Spaniard Jose Emilio Suarez had been in contact with police before the attacks.

The men are suspected of providing dynamite for the attacks, which killed 191 people and injured more than 2,000.

The paper said they passed on details about drug deals and other crimes.


Mr Suarez, a former miner, was arrested a week after the attacks and is the only Spanish-born suspect in custody.

According to El Mundo, he was an informant for the National Police, providing information about trafficking in weapons, drugs and explosives.

The paper said Mr Zuher, who was arrested later in March, had passed on information to the Civil Guards in Madrid about low-level drug deals involving hashish and ecstasy.

El Mundo, citing security sources for its report, said Mr Zuher was believed to be the link between Mr Suarez, who allegedly supplied the explosives, and the cell that carried out the attacks.

After the report was published, the Spanish interior ministry issued a statement saying it had ordered an investigation.

The ministry said that if necessary, the results of the inquiry would be handed over to a judge.

Spain on new terror alert after rail bomb find

Archives Breaking News Ireland

Spain on new terror alert after rail bomb find

Friday, April 02, 2004  5:59:27 PM

Spain was plunged into further terror crisis today when a bomb was discovered on a high speed rail line near Madrid that was being used by hundreds of people heading on holiday.

The army was drafted in to guard rail lines after it was discovered that the explosives might be the same kind used in the March 11 terror bombings that killed 191 people on trains in the capital.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said initial analysis of the 26 pound bomb – found on a line between Madrid and Seville ? suggested it might be a Spanish brand of dynamite called Goma 2 Eco ? the explosive used in the March 11 backpack bombs.

“Because of its colour and texture,” Acebes told a news conference, “it might be Goma 2 Eco.”

He added: “Now it is going to be analysed but the specialists say it might be Goma 2 Eco.”

Bomb-disposal experts alerted by a railway employee found the bomb under a track about 40 miles south of Madrid.

The state railway said no train was close to the bomb when it was detected.

The explosives were connected to a detonator with a 136 yard cable, the minister said.

Acebes said the bomb failed to go off because it did not have a trigger – suggesting that the bomber or bombers may have been scared away by security guards as they were planting the device.

He said it was not immediately known who placed the bomb.

“As we get information regarding those possibly responsible or details that move the investigation forward, we will give them to you,” Acebes added.

The train bombs last month were detonated remotely by mobile phone.

Friday was a busy travel day in Spain, with trains and roads packed people leaving home for the Easter holidays.

Judge Teresa Palacio, the investigating magistrate on duty at the National Court, said there was no evidence that would point to either the armed Basque group Eta or al-Qaida in the failed attack.

Eta has in the past targeted Spanish rail lines but if the explosive is the same as the Madrid bombings suspicion would fall on al-Qaida linked terrorists.

The targeted line serves mainly Spain’s AVE high-speed trains, which have a maximum speed of 190 mph.

The discovery of the bomb came less than a month after 10 backpack bombs ripped through four commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800.

The focus of that investigation is a Moroccan extremist group with links to al-Qaida. The bombs were detonated with mobile phones attached to the explosives.

Interpol has issued wanted notices for six men suspected of involvement in the Madrid attacks.

The wanted notices follow an international arrest warrant issued by Spanish authorities for the six.

“As always in such cases, the wider the net is cast for fugitives, the more chance there is that they will be apprehended,” said Interpol head Ronald Noble.

According to the Spanish warrant, a 35-year-old Tunisian, Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, led the group. He allegedly helped arrange the rent of house outside Madrid where investigators say the bombs were assembled for the March 11 attacks.

The five others named in the Spanish warrants were identified as Moroccans: Jamal Ahmidan, alias El Chino Said Berraj Abdennabi Kounjaa, alias Abdallah Mohammed Oulad Akcha, and his brother Rachid Oulad Akcha.

On Thursday, police in northern Spain defused three letter bombs addressed to journalists in Madrid.

Acebes said the origin of the letters has not been determined, although the mechanism of the explosives is “similar to those that have been used by anarchist groups on previous occasions.” 

Officials: Group tying self to blasts may not be real

Officials: Group tying self to blasts may not be real


WASHINGTON — A group purporting to be part of Al Qaeda that claimed responsibility for the Madrid train bombings and warned of a looming attack on the United States seems to be a phantom organization, according to US intelligence officials and terrorism specialists.

In a 24-hour news cycle dominated by fears of terrorism, the latest e-mail from the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigade to a London-based Arabic newspaper sowed anxiety and drew instant headlines all over the world.

But specialists say there is no evidence the organization exists. E-mail messages purporting to be written by the group previously claimed responsibility for everything from the North American blackout to a suicide attack that killed 20 Italian policemen in Iraq. But none of those claims has proved true, intelligence specialists say.

The latest message warned that an attack against the United States is "90 percent ready."

Employees at the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper in London, which has received several letters in recent months purporting to be from the group, say they are not sure what the group is.

Deciphering the group — which first surfaced in July 2003 — illustrates a larger challenge for counterterrorism officials: assessing the murky world of purported Al Qaeda splinter groups that have been responsible for a dramatic increase in highly sophisticated terrorist bombings around the world.

Spanish officials said yesterday they had no concrete evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in the Thursday attacks, and continued to identify ETA — a Basque separatist group — as one suspect.

But the worldwide attention generated by the Abu Hafs al Masri e-mail, received hours after the attacks occurred, demonstrated how easily threats purported to be from Al Qaeda can be spread. Terrorism analysts say such claims form part of the tactics of psychological warfare and propaganda, designed to capitalize on actual violence and deepen public fear of more attacks.

"It goes to the more virtual nature of Al Qaeda," said Peter Bergen, a terrorism specialist at the New America Foundation in Washington. "Some are real; some are waging psychological warfare."

A US official who has access to the latest intelligence information said the brigade’s name is the nom de guerre of a senior bin Laden lieutenant who was killed by American forces in an airstrike in Afghanistan in November 2001.

"The name they picked out is what is sometimes confusing. Their ties to Al Qaeda are not as clear-cut," said the official, who asked that his name not be used. He added that US intelligence officials do not know whether the group exists.

Another US intelligence official said, "This group, organization, or whatever it is, is a phantom."

Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter, a private company that specializes in analyzing terrorist messages for government agencies, said that while he believes Al Qaeda could have been responsible for the Madrid bombings, messages from the purported brigade are not credible.

Venzke said it became clear last year that the many letters and faxes did not have the same style as messages from Al Qaeda. Bin Laden’s organization and offshoots have become more media-savvy in recent years and are increasingly providing video or audiotapes that can be verified for authenticity, Venzke said.

For example, e-mail messages to a journalist for Al-Majallah magazine who is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, sent days before the May 13 bombings in Saudi Arabia are thought to have come from a bona fide messenger of Al Qaeda. The e-mails warned of impending guerrilla warfare on the Arabian Peninsula. The attackers even made videotapes of the preparations for the bombing to be sent to the public.

But unlike those messages, none of the brigade’s e-mails has ever proved authentic, Venzke said.

By last August, he said, he already had begun to disregard the group when it sent the clearest indication that it is a sham: a message to Al-Quds claiming responsibility for the blackout that struck New York City, Ohio, southern Ontario, and eastern Michigan last year.

That blackout was determined to have been caused by a power grid failure.

Larry Mefford, executive assistant director for counterterrorism at the FBI, told Congress that the group’s terrorism claims were "wishful thinking."

"We have no information confirming the actual existence of this group," Mefford said, adding that the group also has claimed responsibility on Internet sites for the Aug. 5, 2003, bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Venzke said: "They started claiming responsibility for just about everything in the world. We’ve never been able to determine if it is just one person sitting at a computer having fun or if it really is a group."

The editor of Al-Quds, Abdel Bari Atwan, could not be reached yesterday, but a woman who identified herself as a receptionist said that e-mail messages from the brigade came in Arabic and that she has no other information about the group. When asked whether the letter seemed credible, she said: "That’s the problem. Probably not.

"There is no proof of anything, if such a thing exists or is being made up by America or someone else."

Saudis kill al-Qaeda chief, Madrid bomber

Saudis kill al-Qaeda chief, Madrid bomber

– AFP, Riyadh
April 11, 2005


Saudi Arabia has said its security forces killed the al-Qaeda chief in the kingdom and the Moroccan mastermind of the Madrid train bombings in a three-day gun battle that dealt a heavy blow to the terror network.

Saud al-Otaibi, "head of the gang" responsible for a string of shootings and bombings since May 2003, and Abdel Karim al-Mejati were among 15 extremists killed in al-Qassim, about 320 kilometres north of Riyadh and viewed as a haven for Islamist militants, the interior ministry said.

The battle, which ended on Tuesday, was the bloodiest in a nearly two-year-old campaign by security forces against Islamist militants in Saudi Arabia.

The interior ministry named 10 of the 15 killed in the battle, and named three of six militants who were captured, five of them wounded.

Saleh al-Oufi, who was alleged to be al-Qaeda’s chief in the kingdom and who, a Saudi dissident group had said, was killed in the clashes, was not mentioned. It was not clear if he was among those whose names were withheld.

Otaibi and Mejati, who the ministry said entered Saudi Arabia on a forged passport, figured on Riyadh’s most-wanted list of 26 militants.

All but three on the list, including Oufi, are now confirmed to have been killed or arrested.

‘Who organized the Madrid attacks, and how, remain unanswered’

A Year After Madrid Attacks, Europe Stalled in Terror Fight

National Rivalries, Fragmented Intelligence Activities Thwart Progress

By Pamela Rolfe

Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A12

MADRID, March 10 — Last March, when a series of bombs ripped through four rush-hour commuter trains, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,500, the attack was widely seen as Europe’s 9/11 — a shock that would force governments to take coordinated action against a terrorist threat that had moved to their soil.

One year later, Europe’s fight against terrorism remains hampered by some of the same national rivalries, fragmented intelligence services and bureaucratic obstacles that existed before the blasts of March 11, 2004, according to analysts, diplomats and other experts. About 75 people — the majority of them Moroccan nationals — have been arrested in connection with the attacks, and 23 remain in prison. But central questions of who organized them, and how, remain unanswered.

Shortly after the bombings, the European Union created the post of counterterrorism coordinator to facilitate cooperation among European governments. It appointed a Dutchman, Gijs de Vries, to the post, but the position lacks real power or resources, and intelligence officials in E.U. countries continue to resist sharing their most sensitive data.

Many proposals raised just after the attacks — for a Europe-wide fingerprint and DNA database and biometric passports, for instance — remain just proposals. Plans for a common arrest warrant, to make extradition of suspects easier, have faltered because some countries have withheld approval.

Despite five decades of economic and political integration in Europe, national governments retain major powers and often undermine standardization plans that originate in Brussels, headquarters of the 25-nation European Union. Even when political will exists, the E.U.’s tangle of rules and regulations can stall change for years.

“We are on the right way, but we didn’t go far enough,” said Berndt Georg Thamm, a terrorism expert in Germany who works with the country’s security agencies and military. “The big bang of 11 March pushed the European Union in the right direction,” he said, but added that it would “take some years before we have complete international, and also national, information-centered cooperation.”

“There’s a lot on paper,” said Daniel Keohane, a researcher with the London-based Centre for European Reform. “They have an action plan with over 100 measures . . . the whole gambit of cooperation. But the E.U. is not a government. It doesn’t have its own intelligence resources.”

“Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which have the greatest intelligence resources, don’t want to share with the 25,” he added.

Another subject awaiting more action is control of financing. “Terrorists have found new ways to finance their activities, resorting to petty crime and fundraising within their communities, which is much more difficult to trace,” said Loretta Napoleoni, author of the book “Terror Inc.: Tracing the Money Behind Global Terrorism.”

Napoleoni was in Madrid attending the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, an annual event scheduled for March this year to commemorate the attacks. She coordinated a work group on terrorism financing, which recommended that the United Nations set up a finance monitoring center to help with intelligence and intergovernmental cooperation.

Even here in Spain, scene of the attacks, many of the pre-March 11 problems persist. In the weeks following the train blasts, Spaniards pledged to find ways to increase security and prevent attacks. But other than increasing communications channels among the security and intelligence branches and adding Arabic-speaking intelligence and judiciary workers, not much has been accomplished, according to security experts.

Immediately after the attacks, many European countries stepped up security at crowded rail stations. For a while, there was talk of setting up airport-style security systems at stations, but the idea was soon abandoned.

At commuter train stations across Madrid, there are no visible signs of heightened security a year after the attacks. “We have increased security in every possible way,” said Joaquin Ruano, who heads the security division of the rail company Renfe. “But there is an average of 885,000 travelers per weekday in Madrid alone. It’s very hard to control that.”

“People think about it as they get on the trains, and there is still fear,” said Cristina Cobo, a daily commuter at Madrid’s Atocha station, the destination of the bombed trains.

A year after the attacks, some key details of the plot remain largely unknown. Much about the culprits and their exact motives is still a mystery, and large parts of the investigation, conducted by the Spanish judiciary, are under a news blackout.

The government attributes the attacks to Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda. The Popular Party — in power at the time of the attacks — stands by its initial suggestions that the Basque separatist group ETA was involved. The national daily El Mundo, which has broken several stories on the investigation, has reported extensively on an alleged connection involving elements of the Moroccan secret security services. The Moroccan government denies the allegation.

A parliamentary commission was set up to investigate the attacks and suggest ways to strengthen security measures. But it deteriorated into a forum for blame-casting between the Popular Party and the Socialists, who won a surprise victory in general elections held three days after the attacks.

Survivors and relatives of victims have been sharply critical of the commission and its report. “They haven’t let us know what really happened, and we want to know the truth,” said Pilar Manjon, president of the Association of Victims of March 11 Terrorism. She lost her son in one of the bombings.

“The first impression is that it was a wide-reaching plan with multiple explosions perfectly synchronized, backed by important resources and preparation indicating a terrorism of Islamic character,” Carlos Divar, president of Spain’s highest court, said at a recent news conference. “But I did not say exclusively of Islamic character. We still do not know.”

Formal charges are due this summer, with a trial possibly starting early next year.

About 218 people remain hospitalized because of injuries suffered in the attacks.

Correspondent Keith B. Richburg and special correspondent Erika Lorentzsen in Paris contributed to this report.



Madrid terror suspect says he wanted to give Spain a lesson

Madrid terror suspect says
he wanted to give Spain a lesson

Mar Roman – The Associated press

28 July 2004

MADRID, Spain – A Moroccan who was one of the prime suspects in the Madrid train bombings once told a police informant that he wanted to blow up Madrid’s biggest soccer stadium because "Spain needed a lesson," a paramilitary officer testified to a parliamentary commission on Tuesday.

A Civil Guard officer identified only as Agent Victor said that on March 16, shortly after the bombings, his Moroccan informant Rafa Zohuier called him to say Jamal Ahmidan had once told him he wanted to blow up the Real Madrid team’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium because of Spain’s support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Ahmidan, a Moroccan, allegedly bought the explosives that were used in the Madrid attacks, which killed 191 people on March 11. He was one of the suspects who blew themselves up in an apartment on April 3 as special forces prepared to storm it.

Islamist militants with possible links to al-Qaida are blamed for planting 10 backpack bombs on four commuter trains in the attack, which also wounded some 1,600 people.

The conversation between Agent Victor and Zohuier was described in one of the documents presented to the commission Tuesday by Judge Juan del Olmo, who is investigating the attacks.

"It’s true," Agent Victor told the parliamentary commission when asked about the conversation in the documents. "At that moment we believed that he knew people (linked to the attacks) and we immediately gave the information to the Civil Guard terrorism department," the officer said. He added that Zohuier called him because he recognized other suspects close to Ahmidan whose photos appeared in newspapers and wanted to provide police with information.

"He thinks that the Chinese (nickname for Ahmidan) is the main person behind the attacks," officer Victor is quoted as saying in the documents.

"Once he told him (Zohuier) that because Spain entered the conflict in Iraq he would love to blow up the Bernabeu to give Spain a lesson."

Three days after Agent Victor’s conversation with Zohuier, Zohuier was detained. He was charged with collaboration with a terrorist group and is in jail.

The officer said that earlier in his frequent contacts with the informant, he never suspected Zohuier could have been connected to the attacks.

It was Zohuier who a year earlier had tipped off the police that someone in northern Spain was looking to sell a large quantity of explosives. The explosives were later believed to have been used in the bombings.

"At the very moment after the bombings, we didn’t link the information from a year ago to what happened on March 11," Agent Victor told the commission on Tuesday.

Madrid terror suspect had Montreal Metro info

Madrid terror suspect had Montreal Metro info


Updated Wed. Nov. 23 2005 11:29 PM ET


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A Spanish newspaper is reporting that information about Montreal’s subway system was found on the computer of a man questioned in relation to the Madrid terror bombings.


"It’s the kind of information that people who are preparing an attack will need," terrorism expert Michel Juneau-Katsuya told CTV News. "It’s far from information a simple tourist who wanted to use the metro would be using."


The El Pais newspaper reports police found detailed plans and photos of the Montreal Metro on the hard drive of Abdelhak Chergui’s computer. It also included information on things like seat layouts, passenger capacities, and the timings of when doors open and close.


Chergui is a 32-year-old telecommunications student from Morocco. He was arrested in May along with his brother Abdelkhalak, and questioned by investigators.


At the time, police said the pair was suspected of helping finance the Madrid attacks and providing weapons to those who carried them out. Abdelhak Chergui was also suspected of jamming the phone lines in Spain during those attacks.


The brothers were released on a lack of evidence, but they were ordered to surrender their passports.


"It is a little bit alarming to see that the judge in this particular case released the individuals," said Juneau-Katsuya. "It does not mean that the information was not extremely pertinent for the case."


Transit and security officials in Montreal say they are aware of the report, but are refusing to comment further.


"They’re likely to have received the information much earlier than the journalists," said Juneau-Katsuya.


Also found was an ad for a Bruce Willis movie that was shot in the Montreal transit system.


In addition, the report says the computer had detailed information on Spanish trains and a map of the London underground.


On March 11, 2004 bombs blew through trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,500.


Militants claimed responsibility for the blasts, and said they were acting on behalf of al Qaeda. They said the attacks were in retaliation for the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq who were sent by then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a conservative.


Socialists, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, won an election three days after the bombings. Shortly after Zapatero took power, Spanish troops were pulled out of Iraq.


In total, 26 people are in jail in connection with the Madrid bombings, but 80 more have been questioned and released.


Federal Minister of Transportation Jean LaPierre says there’s no imminent risk to the Canadian transportation network, but he knows Canada is on the list of some terrorists.


On Wednesday, LaPierre announced a $110 million investment in big city transit security.


"This contribution program is going to cover 75 per cent of the cost that the transit authorities are going to incur in their security measures," LaPierre told reporters in Ottawa.


"When I travel the country I realize that most transit authorities don’t have the money, and so if we want them to make it a priority we have to have a substantial contribution."


Canada, among other countries, has been listed by Osama bin Laden as a terrorist target, but RCMP officials say there is no evidence of any imminent or concrete threat.


"Now, some of those countries have already been targeted, and we’re getting close to being next on the roll," said Juneau-Katsuya.

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