- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 4, 2004

MADRID — The apartment house suicide blast that killed the suspected ringleader of last month’s Madrid train bombings and four other suspects left the core of the terror group either dead or in jail, Spain’s interior minister said yesterday.

Explosives discovered in the building where the five killed themselves to avoid capture Saturday night indicated that they had been plotting more violence and had links to the attempted bombing of a high-speed rail line Friday.

Two or three suspects may have escaped before the apartment blast, which also killed a special forces officer and wounded 15 other policemen, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said at a news conference.

Preliminary forensic tests on human remains in and around the apartment showed that five suspects had died, one more than previously reported, an Interior Ministry official said.

Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a 35-year-old Tunisian accused of spearheading the March 11 attacks that killed 191 persons, was among those who died in the explosion in Leganes, south of Madrid, Mr. Acebes said.

“The core of the group that carried out the attacks is either arrested or dead in yesterday’s collective suicide, including the head of the operative commando unit,” Mr. Acebes said.

Fifteen suspects are in custody in the Madrid attacks. Six have been charged with mass murder and nine with collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist organization. Eleven of those charged are Moroccan.

The 22 pounds of dynamite and 200 detonators found in the apartment are the same as those used in the March 11 attacks and in a bomb discovered Friday before it could explode along the high-speed rail line between Madrid and Seville, Mr. Acebes said.

“They were going to keep on attacking because some of the explosives were prepared, packed and connected to detonators,” he said.

The type of explosives and detonators found are widely available in Spain, and the match was not certain proof of a connection.

The judge overseeing the probe of the attacks had issued international warrants for Mr. Fakhet and five others last week. Mr. Fakhet was described as “leader and coordinator” of the suspects in the March 11 bombings.

A warrant also said Mr. Fakhet had been an active campaigner for jihad, or holy war, from as early as mid-2003. He had shown signs of preparing for violence in the Madrid area “as a demonstration of said jihad,” it said.

Abdennabi Kounjaa, a Moroccan who was on the warrant list, also was identified as among those who died Saturday. Asri Rifaat Anouar was not on the list. Another suspect’s body was too severely mutilated to identify immediately, Mr. Acebes said. Police evidence indicated that Jamal Ahmidan, who also was on the warrant list, was among the dead, but forensic tests were pending.

The investigation into the Madrid attacks has focused on the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which has links to al Qaeda and is related to a group suspected in the Casablanca bombings last year, which killed 45 persons, including 12 suicide bombers.

Mr. Acebes said investigators in the Madrid bombing will concentrate on any connections the commuter railway bombers may have had abroad or with other terrorist groups.

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