Skip to comments.Terrorism: the Spanish connection
Posted on 09/10/2003 9:51:30 AM PDT by knighthawk
AS the net closed in on alleged Bali mastermind Hambali - Asia's most wanted man, who was arrested in Thailand a month ago - it transpired that he was carrying a forged Spanish passport. It was yet another piece in the jigsaw puzzle linking global terrorism to Spain.
The al-Qa'ida cell in Spain made videos of potential targets in the US including the twin towers in New York. It also had videos of terrorist training camps in Indonesia and Afghanistan with footage on the preparation of car bombs. The pilots of the suicide flights met in Spain. Part of al-Qa'ida's financing came from Spain.
Leaked reports that show suspected Australian connections in a subjudice indictment being prepared in Madrid against the largest group of alleged al-Qa'ida members in Europe should be taken very seriously by Australian authorities.
Baltasar Garzon, a top investigating judge in Spain's National Court in Madrid, who sprang to world prominence when he tried to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from London in 1999, has stated there was evidence suggesting that the supposed head of the bin Laden terrorist network in Spain had contacts with two Muslim men in Australia.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Garzon ordered the immediate detention of eight terrorist suspects in Spain and issued international warrants for the search and capture of five other Islamic radicals. Spanish police had been shadowing the main accused, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, since 1994 as part of Operation Datil (Palm Date) and had monitored his travel movements and phone calls without realising he was probably a key part of bin Laden's plot for the September 11 attacks.
Spanish police gradually established that the Islamic radicals in Spain were intimately involved in al-Qa'ida's organisation. A mixture of Syrians, Moroccans, Algerians and Spaniards, they were active in the distribution of propaganda, recruitment of terrorists, collection of finances through criminal means and the establishment of an infrastructure of couriers and spies for the Saudi multi-millionaire and Islamic fanatic, bin Laden.
Only after the attacks took place did Spanish police break some of the codes used in the hundreds of telephone taps they had set up. They knew the suspects were plotting something big but had established it was not on Spanish territory. They already knew that "honey" meant explosives and "feeling ill" meant police were around.
Subsequently it has emerged that most of Dahdah's international contacts were leading members of al-Qa'ida. In a 2001 summary, Garzon cited the Australian contact as "an individual known as Abu Suhaib, a prominent Islamic leader in that country". Now he has named Sheikh Mohammed Omran in Melbourne and former Qantas baggage handler Bilal Khazal, whom he originally named as Abu Suhaib, in Sydney, both Islamic clerics.
Whether these gentlemen are pawns of, or players in, or even associated with, al-Qa'ida is a matter for investigation by Australian authorities. Police are keen to meet up with Garzon and their Spanish counterparts to see if the Australian connection to Dahdah is as chilling as found elsewhere. Dahdah was in touch with a network of Islamic terrorists around the world because he was apparently bin Laden's lieutenant in Europe. Both Khazal and Omran have consistently denied any terrorist links. Declaring his innocence in June, Khazal said he had been a victim of religious and racial profiling. In The Bulletin yesterday, Omran is reported as saying: "I am not an Australian by birth but I feel this is my country. I feel I have to protect my country, and my culture and my country, too ..."
Spain is the perfect place for any Arab terrorist group to be based and Australian police will be anxious to see if there are any parallels between al-Qa'ida's modus operandi there and what may have happened in Australia.
Spain is the gateway to Europe for Arab North Africa and was mostly occupied by Arabs between the 7th and 13th centuries. Christians, Jews and Arabs once lived happily side by side in Spain, and it has always maintained stronger links than other European nations with the Arab world. Since joining the European Union in 1986, the Spanish economy has boomed and where once Spaniards had to emigrate to get jobs, the country now urgently needs immigrant labour at home.
An extraordinary lack of immigration controls and policy has allowed Spain to be flooded with immigrants, mostly illegal. Government figures released in July show that 700,000 Africans, most of them Moroccan Arabs, entered Spain as tourists in 2002 but did not leave. Every week, hundreds of boatpeople make the short but perilous journey across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain. With so many Arabs in Spain, it made the perfect base for bin Laden in Europe once in Spain, there are no border controls to most EU countries.
Dahdah, a Syrian now aged about 40, came to Spain with the first wave of immigrants and settled in a modest Madrid suburb, marrying a Spaniard who converted to Islam and fathering five children. In 1994, police became interested in a 36-year-old Palestinian, Anwar Adnan Mohamed Salek, aka Chej Salah, who formed the Islamic Alliance and was distributing radical Islamic literature at Dahdah's mosque. The huge Abu Baker mosque beside Madrid's inner-orbital motorway was built with Saudi oil money.
Dahdah helped distribute the propaganda and helped Salah recruit young men to fight in Bosnia for the Soldiers of Allah. In October 1995, Salah left Spain for Pakistan where he set up terrorist training camps for bin Laden on the border with Afghanistan. Dahdah sent Mujaheddin recruits from Spain. By now, the Spanish police were establishing phone taps on Dahdah and his fighters. What intrigued them was that they were not earning money to pay for their frequent trips abroad and their propaganda operations.
It emerged that they used Moroccan bag snatchers in Madrid to obtain passports and credit cards that they milked and were also obtaining millions of dollars from wealthy Arabs living in Spain. These included a property developer in Madrid, an illegal timeshare racketeer in Tenerife and a ceramics entrepreneur in Alicante all now detained.
In 1996, Spanish police, by then monitoring 200 suspects, intercepted calls and faxes relating to funds or arms needed in Yemen or Kashmir, or recruits needed by Hezbollah in Palestine, or messages from Algerian extremists also with operations in Spain. The latter had links with ETA, the Basque separatist terrorist group, and one of their members, Luis Jos Gonzalez, converted to Islam, called himself Yusuf Galan and trained at a bin Laden camp in Indonesia. When arrested in Spain, his home was filled with weapons and forged documents.
Dahdah, who sold imported German cars in Madrid, travelled extensively to meet al-Qa'ida agents around the world. Bin Laden had sent two terrorist commandos to Europe to carry out attacks in Italy, Germany and France in 1997.
Ghasoub al Abrash Galyoun, a friend of Dahdah's in Madrid, travelled to the US as a tourist and filmed the twin towers from every angle, as well as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Garzon is convinced this video was given to the suicide pilots.
Spanish police were also watching Tayseer Alouny, 55, a Syrian who worked in Granada, southern Spain, for the Spanish national news agency Efe. He left in 2000 to become the only TV correspondent in Taliban-run Kabul for the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera. He obtained an exclusive interview with bin Laden, shown on October 7, 2001, threatening more attacks. Two months ago, he returned to Spain to set up Al-Jazeera's bureau in Madrid. Last week, Garzon had him arrested for being an al-Qa'ida courier and interrogated him on Monday. Al-Jazeera and Alouny have vehemently denied the charges.
After September 11, Spanish police suddenly realised the significance of some of the many coded conversations they had been recording just a month earlier. They were also to confirm that one of the suicide pilots, Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian living in Hamburg, travelled several times to Spain for clandestine meetings during the previous July.
Dahdah had three recorded phone conversations with, Spanish police say, "a certain Shakur with a Moroccan accent".
On August 6, 2001, Shakur said: "I have cut my old relations and in a month perhaps I could see you." On August 27 he informed: "At the moment I am making a thing. I am giving classes. In the classes I have entered into the field of aviation and also we have slit the throat of the bird." He told Dahdah not to tell anyone else. He promised he would "deliver the prize".
On September 26, Shakur and Dahdah spoke again and, police guess, referred to police watching them as an illness. Shakur asked Dahdah: "Have you taken the medicine for malaria?" Dahdah replied: "I am a little ill, the doctors have been to visit a sick man."
One suspects some Islamic radicals in Australia are feeling a little "ill" at the moment, too.