Madrid bomb suspects are linked to attacks on twin towers

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Two Moroccan suspects detained by Spanish police in connection with the Madrid train blasts were already known to authorities in connection with the 11 September attacks in 2001.

Two Moroccan suspects detained by Spanish police in connection with the Madrid train blasts were already known to authorities in connection with the 11 September attacks in 2001.

Mohamed Chaoui, 34, and Jamal Zougam, 30, who were among five men detained on Saturday in connection with the bombings that killed 200 people, had been linked to an earlier investigation into the Spanish al-Qa'ida cell that helped plan the US attacks.

Jean-Charles Brisard, an investigator hired by relatives of victims of the World Trade Centre attacks, said that Mr Chaoui's name had appeared in transcripts of a conversation between two members of a Spanish al-Qa'ida cell involved in planning the US attacks. Mr Brisard, who runs an independent investigating firm called JCB Consulting and is an expert on terrorist financing, said he had seen the Tangier-born suspect's name in the transcript of a telephone conversation bugged on the orders of the Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon.

The conversation ­ taped in August 2001 ­ was between Barakat Yarkas, thought to be the head of the al-Qa'ida cell in Spain, and a man called Abdulak al-Magrebi. In the conversation, Mr Magrebi says: "You should get in touch with Jamal and his brother Mohamed Chaoui from Tangier."

Mr Garzon and Moroccan officials painted an equally sinister picture of Mr Zougam. In an indictment in September last year Mr Garzon identified Mr Zougam as a "follower" of the main al-Qa'ida organiser in Spain for the 11 September attacks.

Police say Spain was an important staging ground for the 11 September attacks, as well as Germany. An alleged Spain-based al-Qa'ida cell is said to have provided money and other assistance to the lead suicide pilot, Mohamed Atta ­ who visited Spain to meet other accomplices two months before the attacks.

Sources in Rabat said Mr Zougam had been under surveillance since last May, when suicide bombings in Casablanca against Jewish and Spanish targets killed 33 people and 12 bombers. He faces no formal charges in Morocco but is suspected of having ties to the radical Islamic movement.

As Spanish police continued to hold the five suspects ­ three Moroccans and two Spanish nationals of Indian origin ­ in relation to the train bombs, a growing body of evidence, including recovered mobile phones, detonators and a chilling video testimony claiming responsibility, all pointed toward al-Qa'ida rather than Eta involvement as the Spanish government at first maintained.

The suspects ­ among them Mr Zougam, Mr Chaoui and the third Moroccan suspect Mohamed Bekkali, 31, ­ were arrested in Madrid after investigators were led to them by a mobile phone and a prepaid card found in a sports bag stuffed with explosives that failed to detonate. The two Indians, Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, were also picked up by police but were not formally arrested.

Mr Chaoui is the owner of a telephone store, the Nuevo Siglo, where Mr Zougam and Mr Bekkali worked, according to reports. The shop is in the Lavapies district of Madrid, where many Arab immigrants live.

Speaking on Saturday, the Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, said the suspects were being interviewed for their "presumed involvement in the sale and the falsification of the mobile telephone and card that was found in the bag that failed to detonate".

The men were traced after the handgrip of the bag was found to contain a Trium mobile phone with a prepaid Sim card

rigged up to a detonator and 10 kilograms of Spanish-made Goma 2 ECO gelignite.

The bomb was triggered to explode by the phone's alarm rather than an incoming call, but had been set to 7.30pm instead of 7.30am.

Investigators found that the device, the one dud among 10 that tore through packed carriages to devastating effect on Thursday, was primed using a copper detonator similar to those found in a white Renault van at a suburban railway station where the bombers were thought to have planted their deadly load. The van contained an Arabic audiotape of verses from the Koran and half a pack of unused explosives. Security forces have been tight-lipped about the mechanics of the investigation.

The Lavapies district, where Mr Chaoui's telephone store is located, is less than a mile from the Atocha station where two of the targeted trains were hit.

The area is also a hub for the city's cut-price call centre industry. The centres, called locutorios, offer migrant callers cheap phone connections to reach family at home and, in some centres, the option of sending wire transfers. Some of the centres have been linked by police in recent months to a black market in the reactivation of stolen mobile phones.

Spain's government had indicated that the armed Basque separatist group Eta was the likely culprit of the train bombs but Eta denied involvement. The group denied involvement after the blast, and repeated its denial over the weekend.