Madrid Suspect Had Ties to 9/11 Figure

Published March 15, 2004

| Associated Press

Months before bombs tore through commuter trains in Spain, authorities had suspicions about Jamal Zougam (search-- a Moroccan being questioned in the worst terrorist attack in Europe since World War II.

Investigators suspected that Zougam had ties to an Al Qaeda (searchcell leader and found a video of mujaheddin fighters during a search of his home, according to an indictment reviewed Sunday.

The 700-page indictment names Zougam -- one of three Moroccans arrested Saturday in connection with the train bombings -- as a follower of Imad Yarkas (search), who was jailed by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon for allegedly helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Zougam's alleged Al Qaeda links strengthen suspicions that the terror group was involved in Thursday's Madrid (searchbombings, which killed 201 people and wounded 1,500.

The train attacks helped drive the ruling conservatives from power in elections Sunday. The Socialists, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (search), defeated the Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (search), who supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq despite widespread opposition.

Zougam was not indicted by Garzon, but the indictment, dated Sept. 17, 2003, clearly showed police were keeping an eye on him. His home was searched at least once, turning up a video of mujaheddin fighters in Dagestan, Russia, and telephone numbers of three members of the Madrid Al Qaeda cell allegedly led by Yarkas.

In Morocco, a high-ranking official said Zougam, 30, had been under surveillance for months on suspicion of having ties to international terror groups, but faced no formal accusations in Morocco.

The other two arrested Moroccans, Mohamed Bekkali, 31, and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, have no police record in Morocco, said the Moroccan official.

Spanish authorities have not publicly spoken of Zougam's alleged link to Al Qaeda since his arrest Saturday, even though Garzon's indictment has been publicly available for months.

Yarkas, who has used the alias Abu Dahdah and who was one of 35 people indicted by Garzon, remains in Spanish custody.

Intelligence agencies, meanwhile, worked Sunday to verify another possible link between the Madrid attack and Al Qaeda.

Early Sunday, Spain's Interior Ministry said police had recovered a videotape near a Madrid mosque in which a purported Al Qaeda operative claimed that the terror group bombed trains in Madrid to punish Spain's backing of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

The tape was discovered in a trash bin after a man speaking with an Arabic accent called a Madrid TV station to say the tape was there, the ministry said.

In the video, a man, who wore Arab dress and spoke Arabic with a Moroccan accent, said the taped claim of responsibility came from "the military spokesman for Al Qaeda in Europe, Abu Dujan al Afghani."

Intelligence agents were trying to verify his claims.

"Our reservations about the credibility remain," Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said Sunday.

In France, which has fought Islamic terrorism for years, an intelligence official said the name al Afghani is likely a pseudonym. The name al Afghani could mean the person is of Afghan origin or has some association with the country.

Moroccan security experts who previously spent nearly a year cooperating with Spanish officials on last May's bombings in Casablanca arrived in Spain to help in the investigation.

In addition to the three Moroccans, Spanish police have arrested two Indians. Two Spaniards of Indian origin have also been detained for questioning.

The five were arrested after a cell phone and prepaid phone card were found in an explosives-filled gym bag on one of the bombed trains.

Friends of the Moroccans said the Madrid store where they worked sold cell phones but insisted in interviews with The Associated Press that the men would not have been involved in planning or carrying out the attacks.

"People shouldn't be put in jail for selling cell phones. They are hard workers," said Karim, who works in a phone shop near the now-shuttered store where the arrested Moroccans worked. Karim, an Algerian, did not want to give his last name.

Acebes said three of the five people arrested had previous records, and one was under investigation for suspected participation in murder, but did not elaborate. He earlier had said that one suspect might also have connections with Moroccan extremist groups.

The interior ministry identified the two Indian suspects as Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar.

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