Spain may have found al-Qaida terror group

Court papers allege 8 are linked to bin Laden

War On Terrorism

The World

November 20, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MADRID, Spain - Court documents related to the jailing of eight suspected terrorists reveal that Spanish authorities might have uncovered a major cell in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network - a cell led by a man who has many contacts and has traveled extensively on behalf of al-Qaida.

Intelligence experts said yesterday that the Spanish cell and its leader, Abu Dahdah, could yield information to help investigators piece together events leading to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and provide clues to the operations of the al-Qaida network.

Spanish court papers describe a cell that provided money, weapons and manpower through a web stretching from Indonesia to Madrid. Dahdah traveled widely on behalf of al-Qaida, according to the papers - visiting or contacting known or suspected terrorists in Turkey, Denmark, Belgium, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Australia, Jordan, England and Germany.

Court papers link the Spanish cell and Dahdah to a cell in Hamburg, Germany, that was Mohamed Atta's base of operations in Europe before Atta went to the United States allegedly to coordinate the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The core of the conspiracy was overseas," said a senior U.S. official. "The individuals who came into this country trickled in from overseas to execute a plan that was designed and put together overseas."

Authorities have been searching for a terrorist whose travels would help them unravel al-Qaida and the U.S. attacks.

Dahdah, a Spanish citizen of Syrian descent, led a cell that recruited for bin Laden's terrorist camps, financed itself through robberies and credit card fraud, and provided false documents to other al-Qaida members, court papers said. The Spanish cell allegedly funneled money to al-Qaida and bought weapons for the organization.

Dahdah's old phone number was found in a diary that belonged to Atta in Germany, the Spanish documents said. They also said Dahdah had traveled more than 20 times to England.

The charges were brought by Judge Baltasar Garzon, an investigating magistrate in Madrid. The judge alleged that cell members "were involved with the preparation and the development of the attacks perpetrated by suicide hijackers Sept. 11."

Dahdah, also known as Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, was "directly related with the preparation and development of the attacks," the judge said. He gave few details but accused Dahdah of recruiting terrorists in Spain to be sent to training camps in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Indonesia.

German police have issued warrants for the arrest of three suspected terrorists and are monitoring the movements of five more.

The emergence of various cells fits the pattern of a terrorist structure, said Colin Thompson, a former CIA officer. "They have to have people scattered around for communications purposes, and to move money and people around."

Court documents indicate that Spain was Atta's last stop before heading to the United States prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Thompson said the FBI would likely seek to question all of those charged but not until they cooperated with the Spanish police.

"The Spaniards under their law probably have greater freedom in their interrogations," Thompson said. "Even if the FBI didn't question the suspects, they may want to provide questions for the interrogation."

Others jailed with Dahdah were identified as Jasem Mahboule, Osama Darra, Mohamed Seedl Acait, Said Chedadi, Luis Jose Galan Gonzalez, Mohamed Zaher Asade and Basan Dalati Satut.

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