Pubdate: Thu, 15 Apr 2004
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2004 The New York Times Company
Page: A - 12
Author:  Dale Fuchs, New York Times
Bookmark: (Terrorism)


News Conference Describes Alleged Planning by Suspects

Madrid - The Islamic extremists responsible for the Madrid train
bombings financed their plot with sales of hashish and ecstasy and
drank holy water from Mecca in ritual "purification acts" before the
attacks, the acting interior minister, Angel Acebes, said Wednesday.

In a final news conference before the newly elected Socialist
government takes office, Acebes described the March 11 terror attacks
as a local, independently organized operation led by people with
"connections to other fundamentalist groups in Europe and outside Europe."

He said the group might have been influenced by a supreme leader "with
more experience with radical Islam" and possibly training in
Afghanistan. But he said much of the plot had been carried out with
the help of petty criminals.

Using common drug traffickers as intermediaries, Acebes said, the
bombers swapped the ecstasy and hashish for the 440 pounds of dynamite
used in the blasts that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,400
others in the Spanish capital. Money from the drug trafficking paid
for an apartment hideout, a car and the cell phones that were used to
detonate the bombs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The explosives, Acebes added, were taken from a coal mine in the
Asturias region of northern Spain and transported in a Volkswagen to a
run-down property outside Madrid, where they were assembled as bombs
and placed in backpacks.

The leaders of the operation, evidently concerned about the effects of
their plot on their souls, "swallowed holy water from Mecca," Acebes
said, adding: "They met periodically to carry out purification acts
that would legitimize the committing of acts that could offend Islam."

Acebes said the man in charge of the group's finances was Jamal
Ahmidan, a 33-year-old Moroccan immigrant with an "extensive criminal
record for drug trafficking."

Ahmidan was identified as one of seven suspects who blew themselves up
on April 3 in a Leganes apartment building, in suburban Madrid, rather
than turn themselves in to police. At least three bodies have not yet
been identified.

Acebes said the ideological mastermind of the bombing, and leader of
the purification ceremonies, was Moroccan immigrant Jamal Zougam, 30.
Zougam was one of 18 people sent to prison since the bombings -- most
of them Moroccan -- he said. Zougam was mentioned but not charged in
an indictment by an investigating judge, Baltasar Garzon, in
connection with the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and the Pentagon.

Acebes said the operational chief and coordinator of the bombings was
a 37-year-old Tunisian named Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a former
economics student at Madrid's Autonomous University who worked for a
real estate office and was married to a 17-year-old Moroccan woman.
Fakhet "recruited participants at some of the Madrid mosques in which
he led some of the prayers, " Acebes said. He was killed in the
Leganes explosion, which also left one police officer dead.

All those responsible for the attacks are either behind bars or dead,
Acebes said. The piece of the puzzle still missing, however, is
whether a supreme leader, or "emir," oversaw the operation from a
distance, Acebes said.

"We can't rule out that someone both with better training in Islam and
experience in Afghanistan or preparation in other territories could
have also had an influence on this cell," Acebes said. "We can't rule
out that this person was one of the people who died in Leganes."

Investigators suspect that Amer el-Azizi, a Moroccan wanted in
connection with the Sept. 11 attacks as well as last year's suicide
bombings in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, may be that "emir," but
evidence has not yet surfaced, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Six suspects arrested over the past week have yet to go before a

A fugitive Bosnian suspect named by the Interior Ministry, Sanel
Sjekirica, 23, said from Sweden on Wednesday that he would turn
himself in to the Spanish authorities this weekend.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake