- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

LONDON — Senior government officials voiced frustration during the weekend at several European governments for failing to implement joint antiterrorism security measures.

However, Britain also is being strongly criticized amid accusations that it allowed a suspect in the Madrid terror bombings to escape.

Mohammed al-Garbouzi disappeared from his home in London on Wednesday night, even though he is reported to have been in close contact with Jamal Zougam, a 30-year-old fellow Moroccan being held by Spanish police in connection with the train attacks on March 11 that killed 202 persons.

Al-Garbouzi had been well-known to the British counterintelligence agency MI5, the Independent on Sunday newspaper reported.

Government ministers were tight-lipped about the accusation and instead issued an unusually blunt attack on their European counterparts.

“It’s time to cut the waffle,” British Home Secretary David Blunkett is quoted as having told a conference of interior and security ministers at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday.

At the meeting, the ministers decided to appoint one person to coordinate all intelligence against terrorist threats. Although a separate meeting of European intelligence chiefs is scheduled for today in Madrid, the British clearly are dissatisfied with the European Union.

“The implementation of [antiterrorism] decisions by Brussels is often very slow,” complained Peter Hain, a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet and a former British minister for Europe.

He said that since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Britain had passed new antiterrorism legislation, tightened entry procedures and dealt firmly with “border problems.”

“We are actually ahead of the game,” he said, “but we have yet to see our European partners working with the same urgency.”

But some European intelligence services, in turn, are criticizing Britain for refusing to arrest al Qaeda supporters living there.

One such known supporter is al-Garbouzi, an Islamic cleric who reportedly is a commander of the proscribed Group of Islamic Combatants of Morocco.

He is suspected of entering Britain in the company of Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah. Dahdah, a Syrian-born Spanish national, has been held in Spain for more than two years on suspicions of being a member of al Qaeda and on charges of weapons possession.

Police think that the pair met in London with the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who has been named in court documents as al Qaeda’s “spiritual leader” in Europe, and is one of six men held for more than a year in a British high-security prison.

John Stevens, the chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said there was definitely a British connection to the Madrid bombings. An attack inside Britain is “inevitable,” he added.

Al Qaeda supporters have used Britain as a base for raising funds, often through fraud, and for forging documents to be used in operations, security sources said.

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