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Profile: Jamal Ahmidan
a.k.a. El Chino
Jamal Ahmidan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Nayat Fadal Mohamed is the wife of Mohamed Needl Acaid. In November 2001, Acaid was imprisoned with al-Qaeda cell leader Barakat Yarkas and others, and was charged with being a member of al-Qaeda (see November 13, 2001). With Acaid in prison, Nayat took over the management of her husband’s farm in the town of Morata, not far from Madrid. The farm is set off from the nearest road and is surrounded by a six-foot tall privacy fence and several trees. In October 2002, Mustapha Maymouni rents the house. That same month, Spanish police realize he has rented the house because they are monitoring him very closely since he is the leader of a group of suspicious Islamist militants. Like Acaid, Maymouni was a known associate of Yarkas before the November 2001 arrests. In May 2003, Maymouni returns to his home country of Morocco and is arrested there later that month for involvement in a series of bombings in Casablanca (see Late May-June 19, 2003 and May 16, 2003). After Maymouni leaves, the Morata farm house is not immediately rented again, but Maymouni’s brother-in-law Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet has the keys to the house and uses it sometimes. He also takes over as the leader of the Maymouni’s militant group. Police will later claim that they stop monitoring the farm house after Maymouni is arrested in Morocco. On January 28, 2004, the farm house is rented again, this time to Jamal Ahmidan, a.k.a. “El Chino.” He is a member of Fakhet’s group. He signs the rental papers using a false identity. More and more members of the group begin showing up at the house. By late February 2004, the group has bought the explosives for their bomb plot and they bring the explosives to the house. They assemble the bombs there. [El Pais (Spain), 7/31/2005; EFE, 3/6/2007]
The wife of Mouhannad Almallah gives a statement against her husband to police. She says that he systematically beats her. She also accurately describes in detail his Islamist militant ties:
She says that militants regularly met at her apartment. She and her husband have just moved, and militant continue to meet at their new apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid.
She says that her husband lived with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet for a month in December 2002. Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, visited as well. They moved when they felt they were suspected by police.
She saw her husband open several boxes and noticed they contained books and videos about Osama bin Laden.
Her husband and his brother, Moutaz Almallah, strongly suspect their phones are being monitored. Moutaz lives in London but frequently visits Spain (see August 2002).
She describes four particularly important meetings held in her apartment beginning in November 2002. Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah, Fakhet, and Mayoumi attended all the meetings. Basel Ghalyoun attended the fourth one. In these meetings, they always speak of attack and jihad. They talk about bin Laden, but refer to him as “Emir.”
Sometimes her husband Mouhannad and Fakhet discuss Amer el-Azizi, who fled a police raid in November 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). She finds out they helped him escape Spain dressed as a woman. El-Azizi is believed to be linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Before July 8, 2001).
Both Mouhannad and Fakhet remain in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail. Her husband’s brother Moutaz does as well.
She occasionally sees her husband with Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.”
Police apparently take her warnings seriously because they begin monitoring her apartment in March 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Most of these people—Fakhet, el-Azizi, Ghalyoun, and both Almallah brothers—are already under surveillance (see December 2001-June 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] All of the people she mentions are believed to have important roles in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested and jailed later in 2003 for having a pivotal role in the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003).
Beginning around January 2003, Spanish authorities discover that a group of Islamist militants living in Madrid are committing a variety of crimes. Barakat Yarkas, the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, was arrested with some associates in November 2001 (see November 13, 2001) and this group is largely led by other associates who were not arrested then (see November 13, 2001). Police learn members of this group are creating false passports for other militants, and stealing cars and selling them in Morocco to raise money for their militant activities. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] A number of them are drug dealers. For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, who begins associating with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet and many of the other militants in 2003, leads a group of about six drug dealers. For example, in December 2003, Ahmidan shoots someone in the leg for failing to pay for the drugs he had given him. And mere days before the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), he flies to the Spanish island of Mallorca to organize a sale of hashish and Ecstasy. Three of the seven men who blow themselves up in April 2003 with Fakhet and Ahmidan are believed to be drug dealers as well (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 5/23/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] In fact, Spanish authorities have observed militants committing various crimes to fund their activities since 1995, but they continue to merely gather intelligence and none of them are ever arrested for these crimes (see Late 1995 and After). This pattern continues, and none of the militants will be arrested for obvious criminal activity until after they commit the Madrid bombings.
Spanish police have been monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah since January 17, 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police are now aware that the Almallah brothers are part of a group of Islamist militants regularly meeting there. On March 3, police extend the surveillance to the apartment of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, since he appears to be a leader of the group and the group holds meetings at his apartment as well (see March 3, 2003-March 2004). On March 14, police also start monitoring Mouhannad Almallah’s apartment (his brother Moutaz is mostly living in London) (see March 14, 2003). Over the next months, the surveillance of this group is intensified:
Police also keep a very close eye on the cars used by the militants. Police witness many of them taking evasive maneuvers while driving around town.
They notice the militants are taking evasive action such as frequently using pay phones and speaking in code, which are signs they are taking part in illegal activities.
They discover that Amer el-Azizi, a Spanish al-Qaeda operative wanted for a role in the 9/11 attacks, had probably escaped to Afghanistan in late 2001 using Mouhannad Almallah’s passport (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
They find that Fakhet sometimes uses a car owned by relatives of Jamal Ahmidan (Ahmidan is the member of the group who will later lead the effort to buy the explosives for the Madrid bombings, see September 2003-February 2004).
One police report before the bombings says that all three apartments are “regarded as essential points of the logistical network to support the recruitment of ‘mujaheddin’” in Spain and that Moutaz Almallah makes the group an international threat, with links in Britain and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005]
Antonio Toro. [Source: EFE]Rafa Zouhier, an informant for Spain’s Civil Guard, tells his handler that two of his associates, Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Trashorras’s brother-in-law Antonio Toro, are illegally selling explosives from a mine in the Asturias region of Spain. Toro had recently been released from prison. Zouhier’s handler, known only by the alias “Victor,” includes the information in a report in March 2003 and sends it to higher-ups. He mentions that the people Zouhier referred to have 150 kilograms of explosives ready to sell. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] He reveals the two even asked him how to make bombs which could be set off by cell phone, and says they have been illegally selling explosives since 2001. In June 2003, police conduct a surprise inspection of the mine where Trashorras works, and they begin surveilling both of them, even though Trashorras, Toro, and Toro’s wife are all also government informants (see June 18, 2004 and September 2003-February 2004). [Expatica, 9/1/2004; Expatica, 11/22/2004] Later in the year, Trashorras, Toro, and others will sell large quantities of explosives to Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” which will be used in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see September 2003-February 2004). Those bombs will be timed to explode using cell phones (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). For some reason, this sale is not detected, even though Toro and Trashorras are being monitored. Victor will reveal what Zouhier told him in 2007 court testimony. He did not mention it in several earlier testimonies, and will claim he “forgot.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] Zouhier will eventually be convicted and sentenced to more than ten years in prison, on the grounds that he knew about the deal between Ahmidan and Trashorras and did not tell his handler about that as well. Zouhier claims that he did, but is unable to provide any proof. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Jamal Ahmidan. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” has a long history of drug dealing in Spain. In 2000, he returned to his home country of Morocco and was arrested on murder charges there. In July 2003, he is released and returns to Spain. He continues to deal drugs, but he allegedly became a radical Islamist while in prison as well. He soon meets Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, the leader of a group of Islamist militants in Madrid, and joins their group. But the group is being heavily monitored and soon Ahmidan is being monitored as well. For instance, Spanish police notice that Fakhet sometimes uses a car owned by Ahmidan’s relatives (see Spring 2003 and After). The wife of one of the militants also informs for the police and reports on Ahmidan (see January 4, 2003). Ahmidan will prove to be the key link between the militants and a group of drug dealers (who are mostly also government informants) that supply the explosives enabling the militants to conduct the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [El Pais (Spain), 3/8/2007]
Carmen Toro. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]In September 2003, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Rafa Zouhier, Antonio Toro, his wife Carmen Toro, Rachid Aglif, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), and Mohammed Oulad Akcha meet at a McDonald’s restaurant in Madrid. The first five people are linked to a mine in the Asturias region of Spain and have no Islamist militant background. Ahmidan and Akcha are members of a group of Islamist militants and are meeting the others to buy explosives stolen from the mine. Ahmidan goes to Asturias at least five times from December 2003 to February 2004 to work out the explosives deal. He, Akcha, and others in their militant group will then use the explosives in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Interestingly, at least four of the five—Trashorras, Zouhier, and both Toros—are government informants at the time. Supposedly, none of them tell their handlers about this explosives deal. [El Mundo (Madrid), 6/10/2004] However, Zouhier will later claim that he repeatedly told his handler about the deal. He will say: “I told them. I mentioned all the suspicions I had regarding the explosives. In 2003 I warned that ‘these people want to sell 150 kilos’. I told them 1,000 times.” [Agence France-Presse, 2/28/2007] His handler, known by the alias Victor, will initially dispute this, but in 2007 he will finally admit that Zouhier did tell him in March 2003 that Trashorras and Antonio Toro were dealing in stolen explosives and had 150 kilograms of explosives ready to sell. Zouhier even passed on that they asked him about using cell phones as detonating devices. Police then began monitoring Trashorras and Toro (see March 2003). Trashorras, Zouhier, and Aglif will eventually be sentenced to various prison terms, while the Toros will be acquitted. Trashorras will get life in prison (see October 31, 2007).
Jamal Ahmidan is a member of the Islamist militant cell who has arranged to buy the explosives for the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He is also a drug dealer, and is purchasing the explosives from Emilio Suarez Trashorras and some others who are generally both drug dealers and government informants. His phone is being monitored by Spanish intelligence. On February 28, he calls Othman El Gnaoui, another member of the militant cell, and says that he will need a van to transport something. The next day, Ahmidan is in the Spanish region of Asturias to help pick up the over 100 kilograms of explosives used in the bombings. He drives a stolen white Toyota Corolla and travels with a Renault Kangoo van and a Volkswagen Golf. Trashorras and Mohammed Oulad Akcha (another member of the militant cell) drive the other vehicles. The three vehicles drive the explosives to Madrid in what will later be popularly dubbed the “caravan of death.” Ahmidan makes about 15 calls on his monitored phone during the several hour journey, many of them to El Gnaoui. While he does not explicitly talk on the phone about moving explosives, he does make clear to El Gnaoui that he and two other vehicles are moving something to Madrid. He is stopped for speeding along the way by police, but the trunk of his car is not checked. He gives the police officer a false identification. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/23/2004]
On the night of March 4, 2004, members of Spain’s Civil Guard go to an unnamed witness in Madrid and ask him about Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.” The Madrid bombings conducted seven days later are said to involve two groups. One group is made up of Islamist radicals under heavy surveillance and the other group is made up of criminals and drug dealers who sell the explosives to this group. Ahmidan from the first group and Trashorras for the second are the main intermediaries. This witness is asked extensively about his car, a white Toyota Corolla. In late February, Ahmidan used a stolen white Toyota Corolla with a similar registration to help move the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. He was briefly stopped for speeding by police on his way to Madrid and gave an alias instead of his real name (see February 28-29, 2004). The Toyota was also used by Trashorras in Asturias and he was fined while driving it three times. This suggests police had some knowledge about the explosives deal before the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Trashorras is a government informant, but it will later be claimed that he did not inform his handlers about the explosives deal before the bombings, and he will be sentenced to life in prison (see October 31, 2007). Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up with other key bombers about a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
Near midnight on March 5, 2004, Othman El Gnaoui spends some time in a Madrid police station. He is considered one of the key Madrid bombers and will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings. What he is doing in the station is not clear as police will not discuss it later. But his phone is being monitored at the time, and transcripts of calls will later reveal him calling family from inside the station who are wondering where he is at such a late hour. He tells his wife that he had some trouble with identification papers while riding his motorcycle. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] But there are some curious coincidences. Just the day before, an unnamed witness was asked about Jamal Ahmidan and Emilio Suarez Trashorras (see Evening, March 4, 2004). In late February 2004, El Gnaoui bought explosives from Trashorras and others. On February 29, Ahmidan called him at least five times as he helped drive the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. Both Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones were being monitored at the time. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Also curiously, one day after the bombings, police will stop monitoring the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui (see March 12, 2004).
Many of the Madrid train bombers have their phones tapped for months before the March 2004 train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Some of them have been monitored for years (one, Moutaz Almallah, was under surveillance for nine years (see November 1995). While snippets from some phone calls will be made public after the bombings (see February 28-29, 2004), the content of the vast majority of these calls remain unknown. One example hints at what some of these calls might contain. Rosa Ahmidan, the wife of bomber Jamal Ahmidan, begins fully cooperating with the authorities after being interviewed for the first time on March 25, 2004 (see March 27-30, 2004). She will later say that in April she gets a phone bill from one land line used by her husband. The bill is for around 1,000 euros. It shows Jamal Ahmidan made many calls to Afghanistan, London, and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008]
On March 12, 2004, just one day after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spanish police ask for the monitoring of two likely suspects in the bombings to stop. Police ask that wiretaps on the phones of Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”) and Othman El Gnaoui be halted. The reason for this request is unknown. Police have been monitored Ahmidan since at least 2002, and have linked him to a group of suspect Islamist militants (see July 2003 and January 4, 2003). Most of the key Madrid bombers will be linked to this group. Police had asked a witness about Ahmidan less than a week before the bombings (see Evening, March 4, 2004). It is not known how long El Gnaoui has been under surveillance, but he was questioned at a police station five days before the bombings, and Ahmidan had frequently called him in late February when both their phones were tapped (see Evening, March 5, 2004). In the early morning hours of March 12, investigators discovered a phone card belonging to Jamal Zougam that was connected to an unexploded bomb (see March 12, 2004). By 10:00 a.m. investigators begin tracing who Zougam called using that phone card. Several hours later, it is discovered that Zougam called Ahmidan and many of his associates. It is not known which comes first, the discovery of a link between Zougam and Ahmidan, or the request to stop monitoring Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones. But it appears the tapping of their phone does come to a stop and is not restarted for some days after that. Interestingly, the police also request to begin monitoring the phones of Rafa Zouhier. He is an informant who had a role in selling the explosives used in the bombings to Ahmidan (see September 2003-February 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), while El Gnaoui will eventually be arrested and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, someone from within a police station will call El Gnaoui four times several weeks after the bombings and then try to hide this from investigators (see March 27-30, 2004).
The estranged wife of Mouhannad Almallah goes to the judge in charge of the Madrid train bombings investigation and tells him that her husband had been planning attacks in Madrid. So far Jamal Zougam is the main suspect known to the public, as his arrest was announced three days before (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). She says that her husband knew Zougam and talked about doing business with him in Morocco. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007] A police officer confirms to the judge that she had already discussed many of these connections with police in January and February 2003. At that time, she named her husband, his brother Moutaz Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Basel Ghalyoun, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Ahmidan, and others (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). These men will turn out to be most of the key players in the train bombings. All of them have been under surveillance for over a year at her apartment and elsewhere (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). She tells the judge additional details about the Almallah brothers’ links to Abu Qatada, an imam linked to al-Qaeda (see August 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] Seemingly, her account, plus all the data collected from monitoring these suspects prior to the bombing, should be enough evidence to arrest the suspects. Strangely, many of the suspects continue to live where they lived before the bombing, and continue to use the same phones as before. For instance, Ahmidan, whom she named, lives at the same residence as before until March 18 (see March 27-30, 2004). But there seems to be no urgent effort to arrest or monitor them, nor are their names or pictures published until March 30. In fact, the apartment where Mouhannad Almallah and his wife lived that was monitored for over a year is not raided until March 24 (see March 24-30, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
Rafa Zouhier is an informant working for Spain’s Civil Guard. On March 16 and 17, 2004, he speaks to his handler, known by the alias Victor, and gives him vital leads that help break open the investigation into the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He mentions that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” was a key member of the bomb plot. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 343-348] Then, according to phone transcripts, on March 17, 2004, he calls Victor again and correctly tells him the exact street where Ahmidan lives. Zouhier gives further details about what Ahmidan looks like, his car, his family, and so on. Seemingly, the police have enough information to find Ahmidan, but they do not attempt to go to his house. Nine days later, they will talk to Ahmidan’s wife and find out that he was there on March 17 and all the next day. Then, on the March 19, Ahmidan goes to the farm house he is renting where the bombs were built, which the police have yet to search (see March 18-26, 2004). After that, he goes to an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes, where most of the rest of the suspects are staying. So if police would have pursued the lead and then trailed Ahmidan, they would have been led to nearly all the main suspects. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/3/2006] Police will arrest Zouhier on March 19 for not telling them more about the plot, and sooner. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] He will eventually be convicted and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a police informant, is questioned about the Madrid train bombings that took place one week before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The previous day, another informant named Rafa Zouhier spoke to police and named Trashorras, Jamal Ahmidan, and others as key figures in the purchase of the explosives used in the bombings (see March 17, 2004). Trashorras and Zouhier allegedly did not tell their handlers about the explosives purchase before the bombings, so they are both arrested and eventually convicted for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Trashorras confesses much information to the police, including the role of Ahmidan and the fact that the bombs were built in a farm house Ahmidan is renting in the nearby town of Morata. Police already are aware of the house because some of the Madrid bombings suspects were monitored meeting there in 2002 and 2003 (see October 2002-June 2003), but it has not been searched since the bombings. By chance, on March 19, Ahmidan returns to the Morata house and has dinner there with his family. However, police still have not acted on Trashorras’s tip and gone to the house, so they miss Ahmidan. Also on March 19, police publicly announce the arrest of Trashorras, causing Ahmidan to finally go into hiding (see March 19, 2004). He goes to the bombers’ hideout in the town of Leganes, which could have led police to most of the other bombers. Hamid Ahmidan, Jamal Ahmidan’s cousin, answers questions about the house to police on March 21 and reveals that many of the bombers were there just before the bombing. But remarkably, police do not search the house until March 26. By that time, Ahmidan and the other bombers who lived there are no longer there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008] Ahmidan and many of the other key bomb suspects allegedly blow themselves up in Leganes in early April (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
After the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), many of the suspected bombers remain in Spain and do not attempt to go into hiding, even though it was publicly announced that one of their associates, Jamal Zougam, was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, a figure linked to the two main groups involved in the bombings - the Islamist militants and the drug dealers who helped procure the explosives - remains with his wife and family. Sometimes he goes to a farm house he is renting in the town of Morata near Madrid, where investigators later determine the bombers built the bombs. Beginning on March 17, Spanish police are given evidence tying Ahmidan to the bombings and details about where he lived (see March 17, 2004). On March 18, a police informant named Emilio Suarez Trashorras is questioned and gives the exact location of Ahmidan’s farm house (see March 18-26, 2004). But rather than go to the house, police decide Trashorras is part of the bombings plot since he did not tell his handlers about selling explosives to Ahmidan. They arrest him and publicly announce his arrest the next day, March 19. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later explain that she is watching television with Jamal at the farm house when Trashorras’s arrest is announced. Hours earlier, Jamal had actually gone to the Civil Guard near the farm and reported that some goats he owns had been stolen. He immediately goes into hiding at an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes. Other bombers also find out about the arrest of Trashorras and go into hiding at the Leganes apartment as well. Police will not raid Ahmidan’s farm in Morata until March 26 (see March 18-26, 2004). [El Pais (Spain), 3/8/2007]
Police have concluded that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” is one of the main suspects in the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). On March 25, Ahmidan’s wife Rosa begins fully cooperating with police. Two days later, someone calls her from the the telephone number 629247179. That same day, someone calls a man named Othman El Gnaoui from the same number. El Gnaoui is a close associate of Ahmidan. The same phone number is used to call the mobile phone number of a man named Abdelkader Kounjaa four times three days later. He is the brother of Abdennabi Kounjaa, one of the bombers hiding out with many of the other bombers in an apartment in the town of Leganes by this date (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). The police will later tell the judge in the Madrid bombings trial that the person using this phone to make all these calls was Ahmidan. But in fact, in 2005 the judge will learn from the phone company that the phone number actually belongs to the national police. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later say she does not remember who called her, and phone records show the call to her lasted less than a minute. These calls have never been explained, but they suggest the police knew where some of the suspects were hiding, took no action against them, and then tried to cover this up. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/23/2007] Curiously, one day after the bombings, police stopped tapping the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui even though evidence linked Ahmidan to the main suspect in the bombings that same day (see March 12, 2004). El Gnaoui will be arrested on March 30 and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see March 30-31, 2004). [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
On March 30, 2004, Madrid train bombings suspect Othman El Gnaoui is arrested in Spain (he will later be sentenced to life in prison, see October 31, 2007). The next day, the Spanish government finally issues the first international arrest warrants for the bombings. It also publicly names six of the top suspects and releases photographs of them. The named suspects are: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Said Berraj, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), Abdennabi Kounjaa, and the brothers Rachid Oulad Akcha and Mohammed Oulad Akcha. [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Jamal Zougam was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Over the next weeks, more arrests were made. By the end of March, almost 20 suspects have been arrested. But strangely, there appears to be no effort to arrest the main suspects like the six mentioned above, who generally continued to live openly in Spain after the bombings. However, they were aware of the arrest of their associates and by the end of March most of them have gone into hiding, renting an apartment together in the town of Leganes. [Irujo, 2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 302] Even by the end of the month, authorities appear uncertain about whom to arrest. For instance, on March 30, Fouad El Morabit is arrested, then released, then arrested again. Then he is released again the next day, only to be arrested yet again later. He will eventually be sentenced to 12 years for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Other likely suspects such as Allekema Lamari and Abdelmajid Boucher have not been charged or questioned at all by the end of March. All of this is strange, because Spanish intelligence has been monitoring all of the above mentioned people and their associates for at least a year before the bombings, sometimes more, and their phone numbers and addresses are known. When Zougam was arrested on March 13, investigators found he had called many of those mentioned above in the days before the bombings, which seemingly would have been grounds for their arrest or questioning. Adding to the strange situation, most of these suspects continued to live normal lives for many days after the bombings, which would have made their arrests easy. For instance, Ahmidan continued to live with his wife and children until March 19 (see March 17, 2004). He even continued to use his monitored cell phone, visited bars, and talked to neighbors. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006] On April 2, the Madrid bombers apparently will try to bomb another train (see 11:00 a.m., April 2, 2004). One day after that, seven of the bombers, including Fakhet, Ahmidan, Kounjaa, and the Akcha brothers, apparently blow themselves up after a shootout with police (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). Berraj is a government informant despite being listed as a wanted man (see 2003), and will never be charged in the bombings.
The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were not suicide bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and most of the key bombers remain in Spain, holed up in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. By April 3, 2004, Spanish police are tipped off about the general location of the apartment from monitoring cell phone calls. Agents from the Spanish intelligence agency, the UCI, arrive near the apartment around 2:00 p.m. The head of the UCI unit on the scene will later say that he is told around this time that the specific floor where the suspects are has been pinpointed through phone intercepts, but he will not recall who tells him this. At about 5:00 p.m., one of the suspected bombers, Abdelmajid Boucher, goes outside to throw away the trash. He spots the plainclothes agents surrounding the house and runs away. The agents pursue him but he gets away. Presumably, he soon calls the other men in the apartment to let them know the police are outside. A gunfight breaks out between the police and the men in the apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] During the several hours of shooting, the bombers make a series of phone calls to relatives, telling them good-bye. They also allegedly somehow call radical imam Abu Qatada three times, even though he is being held in a maximum security prison in Britain, and get religious approval for their planned suicides (see Between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). When police assault the apartment shortly after 9:00 p.m. that evening, the seven bombers still there are reportedly huddled together and blow themselves up (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 360-361] In late 2005, Boucher will be arrested while traveling through Serbia by train. He will be extradited to Spain and sentenced to 18 years in prison (see October 31, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/1/2005]
The explosion in the Leganes apartment. [Source: Associated Press]The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were not suicide bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and most of the key bombers remain in Spain, holed up in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. The police surrounded them in the early afternoon and a several hour shootout began (see 2:00-9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). GEO, an elite police unit, arrives around 8:00 p.m. The head of GEO will later testify that he decides to assault the apartment immediately because of reports they have explosives. The entire area has already been evacuated. There reportedly is some shouting back and forth, but no negotiations. One of the bombers reportedly shouts, “Enter, you suckers!” At 9:30, the GEO unit knocks down the door to the apartment with explosives and throws tear gas into the room. But the bombers are reportedly huddled together and blow themselves up. One GEO agent is also killed in the explosion. The bombers killed are: Allekema Lamari, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Abdennabi Kounjaa, Arish Rifaat, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), and the brothers Mohammed Oulad Akcha and Rachid Oulad Akcha. Others are believed to have escaped during the shootout. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 360-361; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/22/2007] Lamari, Fakhet, and Ahmidan are thought to have been the top leaders of the plot. [BBC, 3/10/2005] It will later emerge that close associates of both Fakhet and Lamari were government informants (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004), and that Spanish intelligence specifically warned in November 2003 that the two of them were planning an attack in Spain on a significant target (see November 6, 2003). Furthermore, Fakhet himself may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).
Emilio Suarez Trashorras. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Spanish government officials announce that the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) were funded largely by drug money. The bombers bought the explosives from a criminal using drugs as payment. The criminal, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, will turn out to also work as a government informant, informing about drug deals (see June 18, 2004)). The bombers also use profits from drug sales to rent an apartment, buy a car, and purchase the cell phones used as detonators in the bombs. No estimate is given as to just how much money the plotters made by selling drugs. But because of these profits the bombers apparently do not need any money from militants overseas. [Associated Press, 4/14/2004] One of the main bombers, Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” was a long time dealer in hashish. [Irujo, 2005] Several months before the bombings, he shot someone in the leg for failing to pay for the drugs he had given them. [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007]
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