Al-Jazeera reporter 'gave money to al-Qa'ida'

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The Independent Online

A Syrian-born reporter from al-Jazeera television suspected of having links with al-Qa'ida told an investigating judge in Spain yesterday he had occasionally taken large amounts of money to Syrians living abroad.

Police claim that Tayssir Alouni, who is a Spanish national, was sending funds to clandestine camps for al-Qa'ida recruits to be trained.

Judge Baltasar Garzon ordered Mr Alouni, who was detained on Friday at his home near Granada, to be held for a further three days to allow more time to study police reports and seized documents.

Mr Alouni testified yesterday in Madrid that he had taken suitcases containing between $1,000 and $4,000to Syrians living in Chechnya, Turkey and Afghanistan five or six times between 1995 and 1999. He told the hearing he had collected the money from fellow Syrians in Spain as a gesture of friendship and solidarity with Arabs in exile, not to fund terrorist activities, court sources said.

Mr Alouni is suspected of collaborating with al-Qa'ida and of supplying it with funds. Among the documents and computer files seized by police are transcripts of court proceedings against al-Qa'ida suspects detained in Spain on Judge Garzon's orders in November 2001. Those detained include Imad Eddin Barakat, who is also known as Abu Dahdah, the suspected leader of al-Qa'ida in Spain, to whom Mr Alouni said he handed money on several occasions. Mr Barakat remains in detention.

Police believe Mr Alouni has links with the Hamburg cell of al-Qa'ida, and with friends of two of the pilots involved in the World Trade Centre attacks two years ago. He denied having any links with Mohamed Atta, the suicide pilot who passed through Spain before the attacks on 11 September 2001, but admitted speaking with Atta's brother by telephone.

Mr Alouni told Judge Garzon how he filmed an interview with Osama bin Laden in October 2001. He described how he was taken blindfold to meet the al-Qa'ida leader.

Syrian and Jordanian journalists' organisations demanded Mr Alouni's freedom yesterday. And Jihad Ballout, a spokesman for al-Jazeera, said Mr Alouni's continued detention was "shocking". Mr Ballout said al-Jazeera was doing its best to clear the journalist's name.

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