Spanish police deny that failures helped bombers

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The Independent Online

The Spanish authorities responded to criticism yesterday that intelligence failures may have contributed to the Madrid train bombings by assuring the public that investigations were progressing well.

The Spanish authorities responded to criticism yesterday that intelligence failures may have contributed to the Madrid train bombings by assuring the public that investigations were progressing well.

Further information about one of the five men arrested last Saturday over the bombings, Jamal Zougam, reinforced growing suspicion that although he had been known to Spanish authorities for some time as an important figure in al-Qa'ida, he had been allowed to live and work unmonitored in Madrid.

The Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, fighting accusations that the government had in recent months re-deployed police dedicated to watching Islamist extremists to other duties, said the investigation was making progress.

Five men are in custody but only Mr Zougam, a Moroccan national, is spoken of as a key player in Spain's worst terrorist attack. Five more Moroccans are being sought by the police.

The prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, who won last Sunday's general election after revelations that al-Qa'ida could have been behind the attack, said terrorists "will not have a moment's rest" once he takes over.

He promised to improve the co-ordination of the civil guard and national police by putting both under a single chief.

Mr Zougam, the chief suspect in the bombings, who ran a mobile phone shop in Madrid, has been identified as a "follower" of Imad Yarkas, the jailed leader of Spain's al-Qa'ida cell. Neighbours described Mr Zougam as friendly and nice and "a very modern Muslim - although he didn't drink".

Mr Zougam's name was on the indictment list of the judge who investigated the involvement of the Spain-based terrorists in the planning of the 11 September attacks on America.

Mr Zougam was connected to an extremist Islamic cleric, Mohamed Fizazi, who travelled Europe during the late 1990s, preaching in mosques that Muslims had a "duty" to kill non-Muslim men, women and children who were a menace to them. Fizazi was the spiritual leader of an extremist sect, Salafia Jihadia, implicated in the suicide bombings in Casablanca in May last year in which more than 40 people died. He is serving a 30-year jail sentence in Morocco.

Mr Zougam and the five other Moroccans who are being sought are thought to be connected to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), which aims to turn Morocco into an Islamic state. The group was founded under another name in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1993, composed mostly of former Mujahedin and recruits from jihadi training camps. It is thought that Mr Zougam may have formed part of a cell of at least eight members.

David Courtailler, a Frenchman who met Mr Zougam in 1998, appeared briefly in court in Paris yesterday accused of consorting with terrorists.

M. Courtailler's lawyer, Philibert Lepy, said: "Of course my client is no terrorist. There is nothing in the file against him, except phone numbers, journeys and meetings."

*A French motorist, who thought that he saw Osama bin Laden walking along a street in Montpellier, drove through a red light, mounted a pavement and almost ran over a pedestrian.

The motorist, a 35-year-old craftsman, named as Pierre, told a court he was a "victim of a hallucination", brought on by the train bombings in Madrid. He was given a three months suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay €500 (£336) compensation to his intended victim.

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