Police 'identify' train bombers
Spain admits bombs were the work of Islamists
Tuesday 16 March 2004
Spanish investigators expressed certainty yesterday that the bomb blasts in Madrid on Thursday were the work of Islamist groups affiliated to al-Qa'ida and that at least one of the Moroccans under arrest had prior links to convicted al-Qa'ida terrorists.
Spanish police have identified six Moroccans they believe took part in last week's train bombings, according to reports in Madrid today.
El Pais reported that police know the identities of five Moroccans who took part in the attacks, in addition to Jamal Zougam who is already in custody,
Mr Zougam was arrested on Saturday with two other Moroccans and two Indians. The other five believed by police to have been involved are still at large.
Investigators expressed certainty yesterday that last Thursday's bomb blasts were the work of Islamist groups affiliated to al-Qa'ida and that at least one of the Moroccans under arrest had prior links to convicted al-Qa'ida terrorists.
Police say their strongest clue to date is that the men who carried out the atrocity, in which 200 died and more than 1,600 were wounded, had firm connections to those involved in the 11 September attacks on America. Mr Zougam, is believed by police to be connected to Imad Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, the alleged leader of Spain's al-Qa'ida cell who is in jail after being convicted of helping to plan the 11 September attacks. Mr Zougam was named in court papers drawn up by a Spanish judge in which 35 people, including Yarkas, were indicted for terrorist activities connected to al-Qa'ida.
Mr Zougam was not among the 35, but he was said by the judge to be a "follower" of Yarkas. When police searched his home they found videos of Islamic fighters and phone numbers of alleged members of Madrid's al-Qa'ida cell.
And it was not, it appears, only Moroccans who were involved in the planning and execution of the 11 March attack. Spanish officials who spoke to The Washington Post said they believed the group included other north Africans, possibly Saudis, and residents of Spain.
El Pais, claimed yesterday that the attack was carried out by the same Islamist group, Salafia Jihadi, that was blamed for the Casablanca suicide bombs of last May that killed 42 people, including the 12 bombers. Salafia Jihadi is a secretive religious group that is suspected of links to al-Qa'ida.
The attack has been widely seen as a menacing change of tactics by al-Qa'ida and its affiliates. They have struck for the first time within western Europe. They have significantly changed their modus operandi: investigators have yet to find any evidence that suicide attackers were used in Madrid, although one terrorist might have died by accident in one of the 10 blasts.
For the first time in its history al-Qa'ida has used not the cheap and primitive fertiliser-based bombs familiar in attacks from Yemen to Istanbul, but Goma 2 ECO gelignite, detonated by mobile phones. This sophisticated twin technique has previously been the trademark of Eta, the Basque separatist group.
This is believed to be one reason why Spain's interior ministry was quick to pin the blame on Eta. The authorities only backtracked when a pre-paid phone card found with the single bomb that failed to explode led them to a mobile phone shop in Madrid run by Moroccans.
Experts have played down a possible link between elements of Eta and the Islamic terrorists. But a Spaniard, Yusuf Galan, was charged in Madrid in November 2001 with involvement in al-Qa'ida. Mr Galan, a convert to Islam, had previously been a member of Eta.
Connections have also been drawn between the drivers of a van found on the outskirts of Madrid on 29 February containing 500kg of explosive and the Islamists: the two men in the van are alleged to be members of Eta, and also to have been among a group of Basques who expressed strong support for Iraq against the Anglo-American invasion. But so far the evidence does not go beyond the circumstantial.
The US homeland security under-secretary, Asa Hutchinson, said he was satisfied that al-Qa'ida was involved. He said the attacks in Spain indicated that al-Qa'ida was becoming more adaptable.
A man called Jamal Zougam is believed by French investigators to have met a French terrorism suspect, David Cour- tailler, in a Madrid mosque in 1998. M. Courtailler, a Frenchman who converted to Islam, will appear in court in Paris tomorrow accused of "consorting with terrorists". Although French officials cannot be sure, they believe that the Jamal Zougam arrested on Saturday is the man who met M. Courtailler.
Islamic networks linking Britain and Spain are being investigated by MI5, but no clear intelligence about the Madrid bombings has emerged. One potential connection is between Abu Qatada described as Osama bin Laden's "ambassador" in Europe and the three Moroccans arrested in Spain. The Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch and MI5, however, have no plans at present to interview the Muslim cleric who has been held in Belmarsh jail in east London for more than a year.
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