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Apr 9, 2004 | 14:58 GMT

3 mins read

Spain: Mopping Up the Madrid Cell

Summary
Further details have emerged following a raid of suspected militants in Madrid, including a video warning of more attacks against Spain unless it withdraws troops from the Middle East. The April 3 raid might have prevented attacks planned for launch during Spain's Holy Week, but some important figures remain at large.
Spanish police said April 9 they have found a videotape in which armed, masked men speaking Arabic threatened more attacks against Spain unless the country withdraws its 1,400 troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The men in the video identified themselves as members of a group called the Al Mufti and Ansar al-Qaeda Brigades. The videotape was found April 8 in the rubble of a Madrid apartment building in which seven militants blew themselves up April 3 after they were surrounded by police. Security forces believe the militants in the apartment building were planning to launch attacks in Spain during the Holy Week that leads up to Easter, including a possible attack on a shopping mall in the Madrid suburb of Leganes. Investigators cited by Voice of America said the men in the Leganes apartment building were responsible for planting a bomb April 2 along the Madrid-Zaragoza rail line and — fearing detection — fled to the apartment that was raided the following day. Police say they fear at least one and as many as three suspects might have escaped the raid, and they are concerned that other accomplices and allies remain at large, including Amer el-Azizi. El-Azizi — suspected of masterminding the March 11 attacks — has been linked to al Qaeda and the 2003 Casablanca bombings and is suspected of organizing planning meetings in Spain for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. Mohammed Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh — key figures in the Sept. 11 attacks — are thought to have attended these meetings. El-Azizi, a veteran of Afghan training camps, left Spain for Tehran in October 2001, but authorities believe he might have returned shortly before the Madrid bombings. He also has been connected to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian whom U.S. officials suspect of leading a terrorist campaign in Iraq. While Easter attacks in Spain cannot be ruled out, breaking up the cell in Leganes will complicate them due to the loss of operatives and materials. Authorities found dynamite and about 200 detonators in the apartment, and the suspected operational coordinator of the March 11 attack, Abdelmajid Fakhet (known as "the Tunisian") died in the April 3 explosion. Associated militants could well have other safehouses and stores of explosives, although — considering the recent interdiction and the heightened level of alert — they might not be prepared to use them. Spain remains in a heightened state of alert and has dispatched 1,500 members of the Spanish army to assist police and civil guards in patrolling strategic installations and public transportation facilities across Spain. Italy also is on heightened alert for the Easter weekend.
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