Muslim militants arrested in Spainish bombing plot
October 20, 2004
MADRID, Spain – A Muslim militant schemed to punish Spain with the “biggest blow of its history” – a half-ton suicide truck bombing of the National Court aimed at killing judges investigating Islamic terror, including the Madrid train attacks, said a police intelligence report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
“If Spain loses three or four of its most important judges, that is worse than losing its prime minister,” the report said. It quoted an informant whose testimony on his contacts with the militant triggered the arrests of eight suspects this week in Spain.
Police said they had intercepted hundreds of letters from suspected cell members in Spain in which they said they were willing to stage suicide attacks.
The National Police intelligence unit report detailed a plot to blow up the National Court – Spain’s nerve center for investigating Islamic terror – on a busy avenue in downtown Madrid.
The report said the protected witness had been in contact with suspected cell ringleader Mohamed Achraf, an Algerian born in the United Arab Emirates.
Switzerland confirmed Wednesday he’s in custody there for entering the country illegally and said deportation proceedings were pending when his alleged link to the plot surfaced.
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Spain’s leading anti-terrorism magistrate, Judge Baltasar Garzon, is preparing to send the Swiss authorities a warrant spelling out specific charges against Achraf, setting the stage for Spain’s government to request his extradition, sources at Spain’s National Court said.
Garzon is scheduled to question the eight detainees on Saturday, the sources said.
The plot suggests Spain remains a target for Muslim militants even though the new Socialist government withdrew Spain’s troops from Iraq after taking office in April.
An estimated 220 pounds of explosives was used in the 10 backpack bombs that hit the Madrid commuter rail network March 11, killing 191 people. Al-Qaida-linked militants were blamed. Seven suspects in that attack blew themselves up on April 3 as police closed in, including several alleged ringleaders.
In a videotape recovered two days after the March 11 attacks, a masked militant claiming to speak for an al-Qaida group said the bombs had been in revenge for Spain’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservatives who backed the Iraq war lost Spain’s general election the next day.
On March 18, a group named for Abu Hafs al-Masri, a former top lieutenant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said it was calling a truce in Spain to give the newly elected Socialist government time to withdraw the Spanish troops from Iraq.
Achraf, the purported ringleader of the court bombing plot, had served time for credit card fraud in a jail near Salamanca in western Spain where he allegedly recruited other prisoners. He was in Spain when he plotted the attack, police said. It was apparently to have taken place some time after the March 11 blasts, the informant said.
The eight suspected members of Achraf’s cell were arrested in Spain on Monday and Tuesday. All eight had been with him at the Salamanca jail, police said.
The Interior Ministry said wiretapped phone conversations showed the cell had been talking about bombing the National Court, but no explosives were found in the raids.
“Achraf told the witness, in a closed meeting, that he needed to give Spain the biggest blow of its history, for which he needed 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of Goma 2,” the report read.
Goma 2 is a kind of compressed dynamite.
The witness told police Achraf was using half the explosives for a first attack targeting the National Court. The report made no mention of what he planned to do with the rest.
“He wanted the attack to be at the National Court in Madrid or the Supreme Court,” the report said. “Furthermore, with this attack, many case files related to mujahedeen would be destroyed,” the witness added.
Garzon, an investigative judge at the National Court specializing in anti-terrorism, has over the past year indicted 41 people on terrorism charges, including Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida suspects accused of staging the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Another judge at the court, Juan del Olmo, is leading the probe into the March 11 bombings.
The protected witness gave this testimony Sept. 14, triggering the eight arrests this week.