The al-Qaeda connection

13th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

Six months on from the terrorist attacks in Madrid, investigators know this was no random attack planned by fanatics acting on their own but a carefully organised operation led from the highest echelons of al-Qaeda. Graham Keeley reports.

The brains behind the atrocity had long-term links to al-Qaeda

Last weekend, Spaniards remembered the 191 people who lost their lives in a matter of seconds as they went to work on a very ordinary March day.

At a service of remembrance, Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso promised those who lost their lives will play an important role in the fight against terrorism.

He said: "These people and their families are the moral backbone of civil society in the fight against terrorism. They are indispensable to end this barbarism."

Aside from the fine words of politicians, ordinary Spaniards want to know how this could have happened.

*quote1*The commission of inquiry that is examining the events which surrounded the bombings has been criticised as insipid compared to the American equivalent which investigated the 11 September attacks.

It appears more concerned with settling party-political scores than finding out the truth, media commentators say.

Clara Escribano, of the 11 March victims' association, said: "The commission of inquiry is forgetting those of us who were on the train."
 
So what is known about those behind the bombings?

Judge Juan del Olmo, who is leading the inquiry, plans to publish a summary of the investigation next month.

But according to leaked reports in the Spanish press, del Olmo is already clear the terrorists behind the attack were "not bunch of delinquents from the Madrid suburb of Lavapies who acted spontaneously", as one newspaper put it.

The blasts killed 191 people

The brains behind this carefully organised atrocity had long-term links to al-Qaeda.

Rabei Osman, nicknamed 'The Egyptian', who was arrested in Milan, and Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, 'The Tunisian' are credited as being the "masterminds" behind the attacks.

Both are said to have had links to the al-Qaeda high-command in Afghanistan.

Another Islamic radical, Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a Syrian who lived in Granada and was head of the al-Qaeda cell in Spain, was arrested in November 2001.

*sidebar1*After this arrest, it fell to Serhane to give the final order for the 11 March attacks.

Serhane had been linked to Imad Eddin Barakat Ábu Dahdah who was also arrested and accused of being the Spanish link in the 11 September attacks in the US.

With Abu Dahdah and Nasar out of the picture, Serhane — who had been studying for his doctorate in economics —  effectively became the No1 terrorist in Spain.

But his low profile meant he was largely ignored by the secret services. From this point, it seems, Serhane and 'The Egyptian' started planning the 11 March attacks.

Serhane was also known in Madrid to other figures who were directly linked to al-Qaeda.

One was Amer al Azizi, an ex-mujahadin, who has a violent reputation and recruited followers for Osama bin Laden in Europe. On the run, he is one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.

Another of Serhane's group, was Salaheddin Benyaich, 'Abu Musab', an ex- mujahidin who lost an eye fighting in Bosnia. He was jailed for 18 years for the bombing in 2003 of Casablanca in Morocco in which 45 people were killed.

As many of these experienced terrorists were behind bars well before 11 March, Surhane was left isolated.

But according to secret service leaks, 'The Egyptian', supposedly an ex-mujahidin himself, appeared in Madrid at some point well before 11 March, to train and prepare those who would carry out the attacks.

*quote2*Another experienced hand was the Moroccan, Said Berraj, who had been bringing recruits from Afghanistan to Europe.

He was arrested in Turkey in 2000 in Turkey but managed to lie his way out of custody and would later help plant the bombs at Atocha station.

Two others who would become intimately involved in the bombings were Faissal Allouch, whose flat in Madrid was used to watch training videos; another was J

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