|Context of 'June 18, 2004: Madrid Bomber Shown to Have
Curious Link to Spanish Government Bomb Squad'
History Commons | 2008
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]
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).
In 2006, the Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report that, according to their analysis, 34 out of the 40 people allegedly involved in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004) were under surveillance before the bombings. It reports 24 out of the 29 people arrested after the bombing, the seven who blew themselves up just after the bombing, and three of the four who fled Spain were under surveillance. Additionally, some of them are actually government informants before the bombing, though exactly how many remains murky. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006]
In some cases different government departments have their own investigations and informants and are not always sharing information with other departments. Some suspects are being followed by two or more departments, such as the Spanish police, Civil Guard, and the Spanish intelligence agency, the CNI. The El Mundo article will conclude, “Undoubtedly, the lack of coordination was a real factor and critical in allowing the terrorists to carry out their plans. However, that does not explain everything.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006] In November 2003, Spanish intelligence actually warns in a report that Lamari and Fakhet are leading a new attack in Spain on a significant target, but no apparent action is taken in response (see November 6, 2003).
7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004: Al-Qaeda-Linked Train Bombings in Madrid Kill 191
At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing
191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings,
but they were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially
blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda.
It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or
arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain
prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11,
2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In
2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombing was inspired
by al-Qaeda, but not ordered by or funded from al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Specifically, the bombers were said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly
given by bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New
Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated
Press, 3/9/2006] However, there is also evidence against this that
has not been refuted. For instance, the investigators claim that all the
key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain
free overseas. For instance, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid
bombings (see Before
March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such
as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see November
2001), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before
July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before
August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have
met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss
a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the
name of al-Qaeda, but is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance.
Press, 4/10/2004; New
Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected
by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly
After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight
his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the
bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly
After October 2003). Many of the other plotters appear to also have
been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before
the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004).
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says later in the month,
“If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too
late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq…
al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells
that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid
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]
It is revealed that the man accused of supplying the dynamite used in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) was an informant who had the private telephone number of the head of Spain’s Civil Guard bomb squad. Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a miner with access to explosives, as well as an associate named Rafa Zouhier both regularly informed for the Spanish police, telling them about drug shipments. [New York Times, 4/30/2004; London Times, 6/19/2004] Trashorras began working as an informant after being arrested for drug trafficking in July 2001, while Zouhier became an informant after being released from prison early in February 2002. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 277-288] Shortly after the Madrid bombings, investigators discover that Trashorras’ wife Carmen Toro has a piece of paper with the telephone number of Juan Jesus Sanchez Manzano, head of Tedax, the Civil Guard bomb squad. She and her brother Antonio Toro are also informants (September 2003-February 2004). All four of them were arrested on charges of supplying the explosives for the Madrid bombings (see March 2003 and September 2003-February 2004). [New York Times, 4/30/2004; London Times, 6/19/2004] The London Times later comments, “The revelation has raised fresh concerns in Madrid about links between those held responsible for the March bombings, which killed 190 people, and Spain’s security services, and shortcomings in the police investigation.” [London Times, 6/19/2004] Trashorras will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings, Zouhier will also get a ten or more year prison term, and the Toros will be acquitted (see October 31, 2007). [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
The trial of 28 people accused of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings comes to an end, and 21 are found guilty. However, only three are convicted of murder and are given life sentences: Jamal Zougam, Othman El Gnaoui, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras. Seven of the principal bombers blew themselves up one month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). None of the accused confessed, making convictions difficult. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was accused of being the bombing mastermind. While living it Italy, he reportedly bragged, “I was the leader of Madrid,” and “the Madrid bombings were my project, and those who died as martyrs there were my beloved friends.” But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated and so they were thrown out as evidence. A counterterrorism expert says the court appeared to have a very strict standard of admissible evidence. However, Ahmed is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Italy based on unrelated charges. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004; MSNBC, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 11/1/2007] Many victims’ relatives complain that the sentences are too lenient. And a spokesperson for Spain’s main opposition party comments, “We still don’t know who gave the order, we still don’t know who built those bombs, and we still don’t know who was the coordinator of these cells that carried out these attacks.” [BBC, 11/1/2007] Some of the other verdicts: