Context of 'June 18, 2004: Madrid Bomber Shown to Have Curious Link to Spanish Government Bomb Squad'

History Commons | 2008

March 2003: Informant Gives Spanish Police Big Tip That Could Stop Madrid Train Bombings

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]

September 2003-February 2004: Majority of Participants in Deal to Buy Explosives for Madrid Bombings Are Informants

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).

Shortly Before March 11, 2004: Vast Majority of Madrid Bombers Are Under Surveillance; Some Are Informants

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]

  • Said Berraj is considered closely involved in the plot, and runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombing. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). Berraj flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. But in 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents (see 2003). And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007]
  • Fakhet may also be an informant. A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, who is not part of the plot but informed on many of the plotters for two years (see September 2002-October 2003), will later claim under oath as a protected witness that he saw Fakhet and Berraj meeting with the same handlers who handled him, and at the same meeting place he used. Fakhet will be killed about one month after the bombing (see Shortly After October 2003).
  • Mohamed Afalah also is an informant for Spanish intelligence. He is the driver, bodyguard, and confidante of Allekema Lamari, who the Spanish government calls the “emir” of the bombings. Afalah flees Spain on April 3 and also has not been found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] Curiously, some reports will later claim that he blows himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq in May 2005. [Guardian, 6/16/2005]
  • There are allegations that Amer el-Azizi, who appears to be the bombers’ main al-Qaeda link (see Before March 11, 2004), is an informant. He appears to have been tipped off to a police raid by Spanish intelligence in late 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). 
  • Mohamed Haddad, who eyewitnesses say may have been bringing one of the bombs to the train, may be an informant. He reportedly lives openly in Morocco after the bombings under curious conditions (for instance, he is not allowed to speak to reporters), but is not wanted by the Spanish authorities despite considerable evidence against him (see Shortly After March 18, 2004).
  • Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a miner with access to explosives, buys the explosives for the bombings. He is an informant, but nonetheless will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
  • Carmen Toro, wife of Trashorras. She allegedly helps sell the explosives used in the bombings, even though she is a police informant at the time (see September 2003-February 2004). She will be arrested but acquitted.
  • Antonio Toro, brother of Carmen Toro. He also allegedly helps sell the explosives despite being an informant (see March 2003 and September 2003-February 2004). He also will be arrested but acquitted.
  • Rafa Zouhier also is an informant. He works with Trashorras to get the explosives. He will be sentenced to a lengthy prison term for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
  • Additionally, other informants who will not be arrested for being part of the plot follow the plotters. These include Safwan Sabagh, who constantly trails plot leader Allekema Lamari, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Smail Latrech, and Rabia Gaya (see 2002-March 10, 2004).

  • 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. [Associated 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 recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004]
    April 14, 2004: Spanish Government Says Madrid Bombings Funded by Drug Money

    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

    June 18, 2004: Madrid Bomber Shown to Have Curious Link to Spanish Government Bomb Squad

    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]

    October 31, 2007: 21 People Found Guilty of Role in 2004 Madrid Bombings, but Alleged Mastermind Found Innocent

    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:

  • Hamid Ahmidan - 23 years.
  • Rachid Aglif - 18 years. 
  • Abdelmajid Bouchar - 18 years. 
  • Basel Ghalyoun - 12 years. 
  • Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam - 12 years. 
  • Fouad el Morabit - 12 years. 
  • Mouhannad Almallah - 12 years. 
  • Rafa Zouhier - 10 years. 
  • Youssef Belhadj - 12 years. 
  • Antonio Toro - Acquitted. 
  • Carmen Toro - Acquitted. [El Mundo (Madrid), 11/1/2007]