Madrid bomb 'mastermind' arrested

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A Moroccan explosives expert suspected of masterminding the Madrid train bombings was detained yesterday in Italy following a police operation that spanned four countries.

A Moroccan explosives expert suspected of masterminding the Madrid train bombings was detained yesterday in Italy following a police operation that spanned four countries.

Spain's National Court judge responsible for investigating the massacre in which 191 people died is to seek the extradition of Rabei Osman el-Sayed Ahmed, 33, a former explosives expert in the Egyptian army who had attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

Judge Juan del Olmo wants "The Egyptian", as he is nicknamed, to stand trial in Spain for 190 counts of murder, 1,430 counts of attempted murder and four counts of terrorist destruction. Meanwhile, the suspect is being interrogated by the Italian judge, Silvana Petromer.

The Italian Interior Minister, Guiseppe Pisanu, described the suspect as "an ideological and operative heavyweight and one of the chief organisers of the Madrid massacre", who was planning new terror attacks. Mr Pisanu said that the pan-European swoop was directed at "groups close to al-Qa'ida."

"Mohammed the Egyptian" is linked to a Tunisian man, now dead, who was identified as the ringleader of the suspected Islamist militants responsible for the bomb attacks on 11 March. Police in Italy, France, Spain and Belgium took part in the co-ordinated pre-dawn raids. "The operation is co-ordinated at the European level," a judicial source said.

The suspect had been in contact with sympathisers in Italy and Italian anti-terrorist and intelligence officers tracked him down some weeks ago to an apartment in Milan. Police watched him until Judge del Olmo issued an international arrest warrant on Monday.

"I know there has been an arrest for which we should congratulate the Italian police and all the police who have worked with the Italians, the Spanish Interior Minister, Jose Antonio Alonso, said.

Mr Sayed Ahmed is said to be a leader of al-Qa'ida's organisation in Europe. Police investigations revealed that he had led a Syrian-Egyptian sleeper cell, which linked up with the Tunisian, Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet.

"The Tunisian", as he was known, was among seven suspects who blew themselves up on 3 April as police tried to storm their apartment in a Madrid suburb and arrest them.

Spain's Interior Minister issued a photograph of the man the following day, saying he was wanted for "Islamic terrorism", but at that time he was not directly linked to the train bombings.

Spanish radio yesterday quoted police as saying Mr Sayed Ahmed was in Spain in 2003, but left the country months before the March attacks. A second person arrested in yesterday's pre-dawn raids is reported to be a Palestinian, Yahia Payumi, accused of association with international terrorism.

He is said to have been the owner of the Milan flat where Mr Sayed Ahmed was staying.

In addition to the latest arrests, 20 other people, mostly Moroccans, have been charged in connection with the train bombings, including six for mass murder. Of the 20, 14 are in jail, while the other six must report regularly to authorities. Several dozen more people were questioned and then released.

Comments