Madrid terror suspect linked to U.S. attacks

Thursday, April 29, 2004

MADRID, Spain -- A Moroccan fugitive sought in connection with the March 11 train bombings in Madrid was indicted Wednesday on charges of helping to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States -- the first suspect linked to both attacks. Amer Azizi, 36, helped organize a meeting in northeast Spain in July 2001 that key plotters in the U.S. attacks, including suicide pilot Mohamed Atta, used to finalize details, Judge Baltasar Garzon said in the indictment. Azizi also was included in an indictment Garzon handed down last September against al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and 34 other terror suspects. Azizi was charged then with belonging to a terrorist organization. Bin Laden and nine others were charged with planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the new indictment, Azizi is charged with multiple counts of murder -- "as many deaths and injuries as were committed" on Sept. 11, 2001 -- for helping to plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Azizi provided lodging for people who attended the July 2001 meeting in the Tarragona region of Spain and acted as a courier, passing on messages between plotters, Garzon said in the indictment.

According to a U.S. congressional investigation, Atta flew to Madrid in July 2001, where authorities believe he met with co-conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh to discuss the plot. Binalshibh, who provided money to many of the hijackers, is now in U.S. custody at an undisclosed overseas location. The U.S. investigation did not mention the presence of any other conspirators in Spain.

Wednesday's indictment described Azizi as the right-hand man of Imad Yarkas, jailed in November 2001 on charges of leading a Spain-based al-Qaida cell that allegedly provided financing and logistics for people who planned the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Garzon said the new indictment is based on information provided by authorities in Britain, Turkey and the United States.

Azizi had a "direct connection with al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan who were responsible for the attacks," Garzon charged.

In a separate order Wednesday, Garzon said he had identified a person previously known as Shakur, who was indicted last year along with bin Laden on charges of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. Garzon said new police information showed Shakur was Fakid Hilali, a 35-year-old Moroccan detained in Britain since last September for immigration problems. He called for his extradition.

The Interior Ministry released a photo of Azizi this month, calling him a suspect in the March 11 bombings in Madrid, in which 191 people were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. But he has not been formally charged and the judge leading the investigation, Juan del Olmo, has not issued an arrest warrant for him.

The investigation of the March 11 attacks has turned up evidence that suspects in the train bombings had ties to people charged in the earlier Sept. 11 indictment.

Jamal Zougam, owner of a cell phone shop to which phones used as detonators in the railway blasts were traced, was described in that indictment as a follower of Yarkas. Zougam, now jailed, is one of the prime suspects in the Madrid bombings. But Azizi is the first person linked to both terrorist attacks.

He has been on the run since he fled Spain in November 2001, shortly after a wave of arrests that netted Yarkas and more than a dozen other al-Qaida suspects.

Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, remains the only person charged in the United States as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks. Moussaoui, who is awaiting trial in Virginia, has admitted belonging to al-Qaida but denied he was part of the terror plot.

The only Sept. 11 suspect ever convicted walked out of a German jail last month, less than 2 1/2 years into his 15-year sentence after judges ruled the evidence was too weak to hold him pending a retrial.

Mounir el Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan, had been convicted on more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization.

Garzon's new indictment places Azizi at a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2000 with a key suspect in the March 11 attacks, Moroccan Said Berraj.

Police say Berraj may have been among seven suspects who blew themselves up on April 3 in an apartment south of Madrid as police prepared to storm it and arrest them.

Spanish newspapers have also quoted police as saying that in late 2002 or early 2003, the alleged instigator of the March 11 attacks, a Tunisian named Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, traveled to Turkey and met with Azizi to ask for men to stage an attack in Spain.

Azizi is alleged to have said he had no one available but told Fakhet to contact Zougam, who was among the first people arrested after the attack.

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