Pubdate: Sun, 23 May 2004
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2004 Los Angeles Times
Author: Sebastian Rotella, Times Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Terrorism)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Muslim Extremists Who Attacked Madrid Funded The Plot By Selling
Drugs, Investigators Say.

MADRID - The odd crew of longtime extremists and radicalized gangsters
accused of carrying out the March train bombings here nourished their
holy war with holy water.

And hashish.

The water came from Mecca, the Muslim holy city in Saudi Arabia. The
conspirators drank it during purification rituals at a barbershop that
was an after-hours prayer hall for adherents of Takfir wal Hijra, a
secretive Islamic sect allegedly active in the criminal underworld of
Europe and North Africa.

The hashish came from Morocco, European investigators believe. The
ideologues of the terrorist cell justified selling drugs as a weapon
of jihad. The Moroccan dealer who financed the plot traded a load of
hashish for the dynamite that slaughtered 191 people aboard commuter
trains on March 11. The drug trafficker led the cell along with a
Tunisian economics student, a duo whose disparity reflects the
evolving nature of Islamic terrorism. Both blew themselves up after a
standoff with Spanish police last month.

As investigators analyze the Madrid bombings and try to prevent new
attacks, they are intrigued by the importance of the drug connection.
The predominantly Moroccan cell came together with remarkable speed,
teaming a drug gang with students and shopkeepers and raising the
specter of "narco-terrorism," a phenomenon more commonly associated
with such nations as Colombia. It also offers a textbook example of
the potentially explosive combination of Islamic extremism and
organized criminal networks.

"It worries us very much," a Spanish police commander said. "Until
now, Islamic terrorism and drugs were two separate areas. Now you are
not sure where to look. You are not sure whom you are dealing with. I
don't know of any previous cases like this in the West."

Madrid's hidden jihad reflects a wider effort by Islamic networks in
Europe and North Africa to tap the violent energy of criminal networks
of diverse ethnicities and specialties, anti-terrorism officials say.

In Italy, a member of the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, converted to
Islam and recently set up an exchange of arms for drugs between the
Camorra and Islamic terrorists, an Italian prosecutor said.

In the prisons of Belgium and neighboring countries, recruitment by
Islamic groups has accelerated during the worldwide terrorism
offensive stoked by the war in Iraq, said Belgian police
anti-terrorism commander Alain Grignard.

"The intermingling of terrorist networks with the criminal milieu is
becoming more and more important," said Grignard, an expert on Islam.
"It's in prisons where political operatives recruit specialists whom
they need to run their networks - specialists in fraudulent documents,
arms trafficking, etc. They use concepts that justify crime, that
transform it into redemption.. The prisons of today are producing the
terrorists of tomorrow."

European investigators worry in particular about North Africa, source
of a diaspora of millions of immigrants in Europe. Most of the alleged
train bombers lived divided existences, shuttling between Madrid and
their native Morocco, particularly Tangier and Tetouan. Those northern
cities are capitals of thriving criminal mafias and a fundamentalist
movement that has also bred ideologues and soldiers linked to the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and last year's suicide bombings in Casablanca.

Morocco's proximity to Spain makes it a gateway for the legal and
illegal movement of people, goods and ideas. The implications for
Europe compare with the threat to California if the Mexican border
region were a hotbed of Islamic terrorism.

The danger also spills south into poor, vulnerable countries including
Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where terrorists are turning to
long-standing smuggling networks that provide a rare source of fast
cash, officials say.

In some ways, terrorism and gangsterism are old companions. Heroin
crops have helped fund the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hezbollah in
Lebanon. Although the director of France's lead anti-terrorism agency
has not seen a recent expansion of ties between gangsters and
terrorists in his country, he says extremists in France, which has
Europe's biggest Muslim population, have a tradition of working with
criminals and dabbling in robbery, drugs and fraud.

"The links with drug traffickers were established perhaps in a more
concrete fashion with the attacks of Madrid, but in France most of the
[extremist] structures that we have dismantled have been financed by
crime," said Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, chief of France's DST
intelligence service. "What is difficult to prove judicially are the
links between crime and terrorism. When you arrest them they are
stickup gangs, they are counterfeiters, they are small-time dealers..
It's difficult to show that the money has served or will serve for
terrorist activity."

The cash and firepower of the Madrid dealers clearly drove the attack
that influenced a national election and divided the U.S.-led coalition
in Iraq, making Al Qaeda's first strike in Europe its most devastating
since those on New York City and the Pentagon in 2001. The blurring of
criminality and extremism went further and faster than the pre-Sept.
11 pattern in Europe, when convicts recruited by the Al Qaeda
terrorist network typically passed through radical London mosques,
training camps in Afghanistan and battlegrounds such as Chechnya.

The train bombers caught international counter-terrorism agencies
off-guard, even though some were known to security forces. One suspect
in the bombing plot was an informant for an anti-drug unit of the
paramilitary Civil Guard, according to police. Ironically, the
suspects' involvement in drug trafficking helped mask their extremism.

Moreover, the Takfir wal Hijra sect to which most of the suspects
belonged cultivates stealth. The name means "Excommunication and
Exile." The order was founded in Egypt in the 1960s by an offshoot of
the Muslim Brotherhood. They set up a society in exile in the desert.

Takfir's disconcertingly flexible theology attracts criminals and drug
addicts; it also influences radicals who do not belong to the
movement. Takfiris accept drinking and vice and encourage short hair,
fashionable dress and an outwardly Western lifestyle as a holy
warrior's disguise against detection.

The clean-cut, well-groomed ways of the lead Sept. 11 hijackers were a
Takfir-style undercover strategy. The sect has figured in terrorism
cases in Europe, notably a foiled 2001 plot against the U.S. Embassy
in Paris in which a Tunisian - a former soccer player with a classic
Takfiri profile of drug addiction, dealing and jailhouse conversion -
planned a suicide bombing.

In the Takfir creed of outward conformity and internal exile, crime is
a means of waging war against the West.

"Crime that was once practiced with no trace of an Islamic reference,
once they have converted, rather naturally acquires an objective, a
justification, a religious legitimization," said De Bousquet de
Florian, the French intelligence chief. "Because the base of Takfir
doctrine explains that crime can be committed for the good of the cause."

That doctrine shaped the Moroccan networks involved in the train
attacks and the Casablanca bombings, which authorities say were
carried out by youths radicalized in the Sidi Moumen slum, a center of
criminal rackets.

An imam linking the two cases was Hicham Temsamani, whose brother is a
drug lord from the Rif region of Morocco. Before the Casablanca
attacks, Temsamani allegedly helped organize terrorist cells in
Tangier. He also spent time in Madrid, where he served as a spiritual
guide at early meetings and Takfir rituals of the future train bombers
at such places as the Paparazzi barbershop in the Lavapies
neighborhood, investigators say.

Spanish police arrested Temsamani last summer and extradited him to
Morocco in the Casablanca case. But his acolytes kept praying and
scheming as two leaders emerged: Jamal Ahmidan and Sarhane Abdelmajid

Ahmidan's aliases were "Mowgli" and "El Chino," distinctly
nonreligious monikers that show his easy familiarity with Spain's
street subculture. Ahmidan, 33, and his brothers allegedly peddled
large quantities of hashish smuggled from Morocco and the the Spanish
enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa.

Ahmidan had done time in Spain and his native Morocco. Police believe
that he converted to radical Islam behind bars within the last few

Despite his reputation for fanaticism at the Madrid mosque he
attended, Ahmidan also frequented discotheques and bars. He struck his
Spanish neighbors as friendly and flashy. They remember him zooming by
on a motorcycle with his long-haired girlfriend, a Spanish woman with
a taste for revealing outfits.

In contrast, Fakhet, 37, seemed a driven and tormented intellectual.
The sole Tunisian of the group arrived in Spain eight years ago and
won a government scholarship to study economics. His teenage wife, the
sister of a reputed terrorist arrested in the Casablanca case, wore a
head-to-toe burka. Fakhet worked as a real estate agent, impressing
his bosses with his sales talents, but exasperating them with his
disregard for rules and schedules.

Fakhet's rage, police say, resulted partly from his reverence for Imad
Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the accused Syrian-Spanish boss of a Madrid Al
Qaeda cell that was dismantled in 2001. Fakhet and a dozen other
accused train bombers were longtime associates of the Barakat cell,
police say. With Barakat in jail, Fakhet made it his mission to take
care of Barakat's wife and six children.

"Their situation inspired and infuriated the Tunisian," the Spanish
commander said. "He was the one who kept insisting that the group had
to do something here in Spain. Why go to Afghanistan if you can fight
jihad here?"

Only a few of more than 30 suspects in the case had trained in Afghan
camps. That may explain why the bombings were not suicide attacks, a
break with Al Qaeda's usual style.

Police believe that Barakat's ideological influence set the stage for
Fakhet's embrace of Ahmidan and his crew of half a dozen drug
traffickers. Fakhet, seen as the dominant figure in the cell, had
contact with Ahmidan as early as late 2002, but the other traffickers
surfaced in the plot only a few months before the bombings, police
say. Although Barakat claimed in recent court testimony that he
condemned the bombings and Takfir wal Hijra, years of surveillance
suggested that Barakat had a Takfir-style philosophy, police say.

"We know that when Barakat had been consulted in the past, he
justified drug trafficking if it was for Islam," a top investigator
said. "He saw it as part of jihad."

The traffickers took charge of obtaining money, weapons, phones, cars,
safe houses and other infrastructure. Ahmidan rented a rickety rural
cottage from one of Barakat's associates on Jan. 28, turning it into a
headquarters and bomb factory. He enlisted Spanish jailhouse contacts
to arrange the exchange of 66 pounds of hashish for 220 pounds of
dynamite stolen from a mine in the Asturias region in late February.

Days before he and a dozen others allegedly planted the backpack bombs
on four commuter trains, Ahmidan flew to the island of Majorca,
apparently to arrange a sale of hashish and Ecstasy, police say. The
cash went into a war chest for follow-up plots, among them a foiled
attempt to blow a high-speed Madrid-Seville train off its tracks,
authorities say.

Police cornered seven of the fugitives at an apartment in suburban
Leganes on April 3. The suspects blew up the place, killing themselves
and a SWAT officer after a standoff in which they chanted
ritualistically, draped themselves in sheets of martyr's white and
called their families to say goodbye.

Six of the corpses have been identified: They included those of
Fakhet, Ahmidan and three dealers. Fifteen more suspects are in jail,
eight are fugitives and several others are free but face lesser charges.

Despite the homegrown nature of the operation, police believe that the
Madrid group followed orders from an Al Qaeda mastermind with a
sophisticated understanding of Spain. The inquiry has focused on
Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Syrian-Spanish jihadi trained in combat and
ideology. Nasar edited an extremist journal in London in the
mid-1990s, then went to Afghanistan to run a training camp for
Syrians, investigators say. He is believed to be in Iran.

Nasar's stature in Al Qaeda today compares to that of his Jordanian
associate Abu Musab Zarqawi, the alleged leader of networks in Iraq,
the Middle East and Europe, police say. Both are considered potential

The anger of extremists and criminals toward society came together in
Madrid, expressing itself in the indiscriminate cruelty of the bombings.

As for the holy water that anointed the alliance, the rituals show the
improvised, arcane beliefs of some fundamentalists, police say. The
practice of drinking water imported from Mecca to prepare for
martyrdom is part religion, part superstition, experts on Islam said.

"They drank the water to purify their souls," the Spanish police
commander said. "To ask forgiveness in advance for the crimes they
were going to commit."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin