Drug money financed bomb plot, Spain says

Interior chief says leaders drank holy water to purify themselves before attacks

April 15, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MADRID, Spain - The Islamic extremists responsible for the Madrid train bombings financed their plot with sales of hashish and Ecstasy, and drank holy water from Mecca in ritual "purification acts" before the attacks, acting Interior Minister Angel Acebes said yesterday.

In a final news conference before the newly elected Socialist government takes office, Acebes described the March 11 attacks as a local, independently organized operation led by people with "connections to other fundamentalist groups in Europe and outside Europe."

He said the group might have been influenced by a supreme leader "with more experience with radical Islam" and possibly training in Afghanistan. But he said much of the plot had been carried out with the help of petty criminals.

Using common drug traffickers as intermediaries, Acebes said, the bombers swapped the Ecstasy and hashish for the 440 pounds of dynamite used in the blasts that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,400 others in the Spanish capital. Money from the drug trafficking paid for an apartment hide-out, a car and the cellular phones that were used to detonate the bombs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The explosives, Acebes added, were taken from a coal mine in the Asturias region of northern Spain and transported in a Volkswagen to a run-down property outside Madrid, where they were assembled as bombs and placed in backpacks.

The leaders of the operation, evidently concerned about the effects of their plot on their souls, "swallowed holy water from Mecca," Acebes said, adding: "They met periodically to carry out purification acts that would legitimize the committing of acts that could offend Islam."

Acebes said the man in charge of the group's finances was Jamal Ahmidan, a 33-year-old Moroccan immigrant with an "extensive criminal record for drug trafficking."

Ahmidan was identified as one of seven suspects who blew themselves up April 3 in a Leganes apartment building, in suburban Madrid, rather than surrender to police.

The ideological mastermind of the bombing and leader of the purification ceremonies was a 30-year-old Moroccan immigrant named Jamal Zougam, Acebes said. Zougam was one of 18 people jailed after the bombings, most of them Moroccan, he said. Zougam was mentioned but not charged in an indictment by an investigating judge in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Acebes said the operational chief and coordinator of the bombings was a 37-year-old Tunisian named Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a former economics student at Madrid's Autonomous University. Fakhet "recruited participants at some of the Madrid mosques in which he led some of the prayers," Acebes said. He was killed in the Leganes explosion, which also left one police officer dead.

All those responsible for the attacks are either behind bars or dead, Acebes said. The piece of the puzzle still missing is whether a supreme leader, or "emir," oversaw the operation from a distance, he said.

Investigators suspect that Amer Azizi, a Moroccan wanted in the Sept. 11 attacks, may be that "emir," but the Interior Ministry spokesman said that evidence had not yet surfaced.

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