Spain Holds 8 Linked to Sept. 11 Plot
Direct Role, Ties to Cell In Germany Are Alleged
By Peter Finn and Pamela Rolfe
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 19, 2001; Page A01
MADRID, Nov. 18 -- Alleged members of the al Qaeda terrorist network arrested in Spain last week played a role in preparing the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, officials said today, marking the most direct connection yet between the attacks and a second terrorist cell.
Eight men detained last week in Madrid and Granada were ordered held without bail early this morning. In the detention order, broadly quoted in Spanish media tonight, Judge Baltasar Garzon said the men "were directly related with the preparation and development of the attacks perpetrated by the suicide pilots on September 11." The judge said they were part of the al Qaeda network headed by Osama bin Laden.
Officials here said the charges were based on documents and intercepted telephone conversations of one of the arrested men, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarbas, who officials said was al Qaeda's leader in Spain. The officials said Yarbas's name and phone number appeared in a document seized during the search of an apartment of a suspected bin Laden associate in Hamburg, Germany, after Sept. 11.
The alleged link between al Qaeda operatives in Spain and Germany could provide a major break in understanding how the attacks were planned and carried out. The suspected leader of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, visited Spain in January and July, after he had moved from Hamburg to the United States. It is now believed that on those trips he met with some of the men who were later arrested as part of the al Qaeda cell centered in Madrid.
German officials revealed last week that they have identified a group of five people, currently living in Hamburg, who they believe supported the cell led by Atta. The five are under surveillance and will be arrested if they attempt to flee, German sources said. The suspects are part of a larger Islamic extremist network that German authorities are attempting to build a case against, the sources said.
Last week, Spanish officials said the Madrid group had links to Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian businessman also suspected of ties to the Hamburg cell. Darkazanli has been questioned and released by German authorities, but he remains under watch, sources in Berlin said.
Pedro Rubira, the state attorney in the Spanish National Court, told the Cadena SER radio station that following the interrogation of the eight suspects, who were among 11 arrested Tuesday, there was evidence that they were involved in preparations for the Sept. 11 attacks. Rubira gave few details, but he singled out Yarbas, a Spanish citizen of Syrian origin and a father of four, who was arrested at his apartment in central Madrid.
Yarbas, also known as Abu Dahdah, reportedly met with bin Laden twice and was in close contact with the Saudi-born fugitive's top deputy, Muhammad Atef, who orchestrated al Qaeda-sponsored terrorist attacks, officials here said. Atef was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last week, according to Pentagon officials.
Judge Garzon, famous for his pursuit of former Chilean president Gen. Augusto Pinochet, held the eight suspects, who were driven to court in separate vehicles, on charges of belonging to an armed group and possession of forged documents. All eight said they were innocent of the charges and denied belonging to al Qaeda.
Garzon released the three others who were arrested in Tuesday's sweep, but ordered them to report regularly to the authorities.
The arrests were the second wave of detentions of alleged Islamic terrorists in Spain since Sept. 11 and followed a two-year investigation. The suspects, mostly Spanish citizens of Arabic origin, are also accused of recruiting young Muslim men for training at terrorist camps.
In a measure of how far-flung the al Qaeda network has become, the recruits were not sent to Afghanistan but to a camp in Indonesia, the leading Spanish dailies El Pais and El Mundo reported today. El Pais said as many as 3,000 fighters from numerous countries had trained in Indonesia under the auspices of al Qaeda. Spanish police said they located the camp and informed the CIA, the Spanish dailies reported.
Members of the Spanish cell also reportedly sheltered veterans of the wars in Chechnya, and sometimes arranged medical treatment for al Qaeda fighters.
Yarbas, a worker who earned about $2,000 a month, traveled extensively in recent years, visiting Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Senegal and Indonesia, officials said. He also reportedly traveled within Europe; he traveled 10 times to Britain, where he met Muslim extremists linked to bin Laden, according to Spanish reports.
The Spanish indictment alleges that the cell here financed itself though robberies and credit card fraud and also provided false documents to al Qaeda operatives passing through Spain. Officials here also told the Spanish media that money was forwarded from Madrid to Hamburg by the Yarbas-led group.
Also ordered held without bail today was Luis Jose Galan Gonzalez, also known as Yusuf Galan, a Spaniard and Muslim convert formerly linked to the political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA, which is responsible for numerous bombings and assassinations in Spain.
In raids on the men's apartments Tuesday, police seized videos of Islamic guerrilla activities, hunting rifles, swords, false identity documents and a large sum of cash.
Authorities said the group also had connections with Mohamed Bensakhria, the alleged head of a Frankfurt-based cell that authorities have said planned a terrorist attack in Strasbourg, France. Bensakhria was arrested this summer and extradited to France.
Yarbas's group also had connections to six Algerians detained in Spain on Sept. 26 and currently jailed on charges of belonging to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Algerian organization allegedly financed by bin Laden, officials said.