Al-Qaeda may have held meetings in Spain


Spanish police believe that the suicide bomber Mohamed Atta held meetings with members of al-Qaeda in Spain last only two months before his final flight from Boston on September 11th.

Ever since the World Trade Centre atrocities, when it emerged that Mohamed Atta spent 10 days in Spain in July, police have been trying to trace his steps to discover who he met while in the country. Although there are still gaps in the visit, he is known to have arrived in Madrid on a flight from Miami, rented a car at the airport and stayed for two nights in the Mediterranean resort of Salou when he tried to visit an Algerian prisoner in the nearby jail. He left on a return flight to Miami on July 19th.

It is now suspected that senior al-Qaeda militants travelled from Germany, France, Italy and other parts of Spain and Europe to discuss tactics and make their final arrangements for the attack. Police believe that Spain was chosen for the meetings because the group had suffered setbacks in Germany in previous months, security in the UK had become too tight and Spain was considered an easy base thanks to the open EU borders of the Schengen agreement. At least 15 arrests have been made in Spain since September 11th.

These include eight men, alleged to have formed an al-Qaeda cell, who were detained at the end of November on a warrant issued by the high profile investigative judge, Baltasar Garzon. It now appears that far from being a minor cog in the European network, Madrid played an important role in the plotting and organisation of the terrorist network, a place where activists were recruited and where training and transport to Afghanistan was arranged.

Judge Garzon's indictment mentions details of five telephone calls in August and September to Mr Imad Eddin Barakat, alias Abu Dahdah, one of the men arrested in Madrid. In one of these calls a man identified only as "Shakur" says: "I am taking lessons, and we have begun the aviation course." However, Shakur was not one of the suicide bombers since a call intercepted after September 11th in which he asks whether he should start taking malaria pills.