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Monday, March 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Bombing suspect had apparent al-Qaida link

By Andrew Selsky
The Associated Press

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MADRID, Spain — One of the three Moroccans arrested in the Madrid train bombings was a follower of a suspected al-Qaida member jailed in Spain for allegedly helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, according to court documents filed last fall.

It was the latest suggestion that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist group may have been involved in the bombings.

A Sept. 17, 2003, indictment calls Jamal Zougam, 30, a "follower" of Imad Yarkas, the alleged leader of Spain's al-Qaida cell who is in jail for allegedly helping plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Washington, D.C., area. The indictment targets Yarkas and 34 others, including bin Laden, for terrorist activities connected to al-Qaida. Zougam was not indicted.

The indictment, led by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, showed police had searched Zougam's home at least once, turning up a video of mujahedeen fighters in Dagestan, Russia, and telephone numbers of three members of the Madrid al-Qaida cell allegedly led by Yarkas.

Zougam is one of three Moroccans and two Indians arrested in the Thursday attacks, which killed 200 people and wounded 1,500. Spain's El Pais newspaper, citing the interior ministry, reported all three Moroccans have links to Yarkas. Authorities in Morocco said they could not comment on the report.

Zougam was one of thousands of Moroccans put under surveillance by authorities after May terrorist bombings in the coastal city of Casablanca that killed 12 bombers and 33 other people, a Moroccan official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

European intelligence agencies were also working yesterday to identify a purported al-Qaida operative who claimed in a videotape that the terror group bombed the trains in Madrid to punish Spain's backing of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Spain has 1,300 troops in Iraq.

"You love life and we love death," said the man on the tape, who wore Arab dress and spoke Arabic with a Moroccan accent.

The man said the taped claim of responsibility for the bombing of four commuter trains came from "the military spokesman for al-Qaida in Europe, Abu Dujan al Afghani."
Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said yesterday, "Our reservations about the credibility remain."

The Washington Post, quoting unidentified European and Arab intelligence officials, said investigators think the train bombings were the work of a multinational cell of al-Qaida loyalists. If so, it would be the first time al-Qaida, alleged to be behind the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, has struck in Europe.

Officials said they think the group that carried out the bombing was composed of Islamic radicals, possibly including Saudi nationals, as well as other North Africans besides the arrested Moroccans.

The operation included residents of Spain and operatives who entered the country specifically for the attacks, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Spanish officials refused to rule out the possibility of indirect ETA involvement in the bombings, perhaps through the supply of explosives to Islamic militants. Officials said they were re-examining an alleged sale of explosives by ETA to the radical Palestinian group Hamas several years ago in an effort to identify Basque-Islamist ties.

Yonah Alexander, a terrorism expert at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va., said Yusuf Galan, a Spanish national who was charged in Madrid in November 2001 with involvement with al-Qaida, was a former ETA member.

Despite these lines of inquiry into a possible ETA role, investigators appear increasingly certain that al-Qaida was behind last week's attacks, and some intelligence officials yesterday described the pursuit of ETA as a dead end.

Instead, they point to al-Qaida's use of Spain as a staging ground since the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. The indictment of bin Laden said Spain had served "as a place or base for resting, preparation, indoctrinating, support and financing" for the attacks and other terrorist operations.

Mohamed Atta, who led the attacks against New York and the Pentagon, visited Spain twice in 2001, including a 12-day visit in July in which investigators think he hammered out final details of the plot with other participants before flying to Miami.

More than 40 al-Qaida suspects have been arrested in Spain since the Sept. 11 attacks. Some have been released for lack of evidence, but 20 to 30 remain in custody.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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