Spain confirms Madrid probe targeting Casablanca bombers

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

LONDON Spain has identified a Moroccan-based group linked to Al Qaida as the architect of the train bombings in Madrid that killed more than 200 people.

The Spanish government has determined that the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group has become the key target of the investigation in the March 11 attacks on commuter trains. The Moroccan group has been regarded as the forerunner of Salafiya Jihadiya, said to have been responsible for the May 2003 suicide strikes in Casablanca.

The assertion by the government came weeks after Western intelligence sources cited Salafiya as a key suspect in the Madrid attacks, as reported by World on March 12. At first, the Spanish government blamed the strikes on the ETA Basque separatist group.

"Other options are not being ruled out, but primarily the investigation is going to go in this direction," Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a news conference in Madrid on Tuesday. "The investigation is advancing. In 18 days we have arrested 23 people including some of the chief perpetrators of the attack, linked to terrorist or fundamentalist groups, particularly the Moroccan Islamist Combatant Group."

Officials said 11 of the suspects were Arab nationals, particularly Moroccan. They said the Al Qaida-aligned Moroccan group was aided by Indian, Spanish and Syrian nationals.

So far, 14 of the suspects were believed to be linked to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which appears on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations and has recruited mainly around the cities of Casablanca and Fez. The suspects, many of whom were said to have been trained in Al Qaida camps in Afghanistan, have been charged with mass murder as well as membership in a terrorist group.

Officials identified the prime suspect as Jamal Zougam, accused of planting a backpack-full of explosives on one of the four targeted trains.

Zougam's half-brother, Mohammed Chaoui, was also arrested within 48 hours of the attack.

Salafiya Jihadiya has also been implicated in the Madrid bombings, officials said. But they said links between Salafiya and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group have been blurred and some of the suspects might be working for both organizations. Both groups were said to be connected to the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call in Algeria.

Officials said Morocco has provided valuable information and expertise in the investigation of the train bombings. They said the North African kingdom has arrested several suspects in northern Morocco.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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