A Tunisian being sought under an international arrest warrant is the leader of the Madrid train bomb suspects, says Spain’s High Court. Court papers say Sarhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet is “the leader and co-ordinator” of people implicated in the attacks. He is one of six people named as bombing suspects on the international arrest warrant issued by the court. Meanwhile, security officials say they believe drug-trafficking was key to helping finance the 11 March attacks. Drugs link The arrest warrant says Mr Fakhet, alias El Tunecino (The Tunisian), began agitating for a jihad, or holy war, in Madrid from mid-2003, if not before. A Moroccan, Jamal Ahmidan, is also wanted as a suspected leader of the group. The four others, Moroccans Said Berraj, Agdennabi Kounjaa and brothers Mohammed and Rachid Oulad Akcha, are wanted after supposedly being identified by police as part of the group who placed the rucksack bombs in the trains. Judge Juan del Olmo, in charge of investigating the attacks, says all are wanted for murder and belonging to a terrorist group. He also says the bombs were prepared in a house in a semi-rural area outside Madrid, which was rented by one of the suspects. Thirteen rucksack bombs were left on four packed commuter trains the morning of the 11 March resulting in the death of 191 people and leaving at least 1,800 injured. Interior Minister Angel Acebes has named the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group as the main focus of investigation, but he insisted that other “terrorist” organisations had not been ruled out. The BBC’s Katya Adler in Madrid says Spanish security officials now say they believe drug-trafficking played a significant role not only in financing the bombings but also in establishing relationships between key protagonists. Family Media reports say Jamal Ahmidan, who has alleged links to al-Qaeda, was orginally recruited by Muslim radicals while serving a prison sentence in Morocco for drug-trafficking. He is accused of driving a stash of hashish to northern Spain at the end of February to exchange it for 240 pounds of explosives stolen from a mine there. Spaniard Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, now in custody, is accused of supplying the explosives. He also faces multiple counts of murder, as well as attempted murder, robbery and terrorism charges. Spanish police have 19 people in custody, including 11 Moroccans or Moroccan-born Spaniards, two Indians, two Spaniards and three Syrians. Fourteen of the suspects have been provisionally charged with mass murder or collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist group. The Oulad Akcha brothers on the arrest warrant are reported to be related to the only woman charged in the case, Naima Oulad Akcha. Some of the other men have the same surnames as other suspects in custody or who have been questioned by investigators.
From Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain To: Imams, Ulema, Chairs & Secretaries of Mosques, Islamic Organisations and Institutions Dear Respected Colleague As salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullah The last few weeks and days have been fraught with tragedies and dangers. I am sure you are fully aware of the serious concerns expressed by the Prime Minister and the Police Authorities about the high probability of an imminent terrorist outrage in the UK. I have no doubt that as a leader in the community you are already discharging your Islamic duty in helping to preserve the peace of the nation as well as protecting the community against falling into any trap or provocation. Following the criminal terrorist attack on the Madrid trains, and despite our immediate, public and unequivocal condemnation of those atrocities some, however, continue to associate Islam with terrorism by using such misleading terms as ‘Islamic terrorist’. The words of the Qur’an are clear: “He who killed any person, unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter, or of spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.”(5:32) We therefore urge you to take the following actions: To provide the correct Islamic guidance to the community, especially to our youth as to our obligation to maintain the peace and security of our country To observe the utmost vigilance against any mischievous or criminal elements from infiltrating the community and provoking any unlawful activity To liaise with the local Police and give them the fullest cooperation in dealing with any criminal activity including terrorist threat “Help one another to virtue and God-consciousness and do not help one other to sin and transgression.” (5:2) To proactively engage with the media in order to refute any misconception about Islam and the Muslim community To develop active contacts with other faith communities and civic organisations in order to help maintain social peace and good community relations. In the event of any tragic incident taking place, give the fullest cooperation to the Police and other concerned authorities. Lastly, but most importantly, seek Allah’s help and support and pray for His guidance and protection all the time. We also urge you to convey the above message in your Friday sermon and bring awareness to our community of our duties and obligations in combating any threat to peace and stability. By doing so, insha’Allah it will help to dispel the misrepresentation. There is no need however to be daunted or intimidated by any Islamophobic propaganda and we should continue with our daily lives – normally and in accordance with the tenets of Islam. All of us as Muslims will have been appalled to see some of the headlines in today’s newspapers (for example ‘Islamic Bomb Plot Foiled’ – Daily Telegraph; ‘The Truck Bombers of Suburbia’, The Times 2004). This kind of sensationalised reporting has done immense damage to British Muslims as well as to community relations and we assure you that the MCB’s Media Committee will be taking this matter up urgently with the editors concerned. You will no doubt recall that in November 2002 the police made high-profile arrests of six Muslims accused of plotting to release cyanide gas into London’s Underground system. Yet nearly 18 months later, none of the men have been charged with any crime, let alone being convicted of terrorist activity. There are other examples of incidents that have received prominent media attention only for the individuals to be subsequently released without any charges brought against them. The impact of such ordeals on the persons concerned and their families is unbearable. Therefore we urge against hasty pronouncements of guilt. The Muslim Council of Britain is planning to organise a number of events and meetings of which we shall keep you duly informed. “O believers, be patient and let your patience never be exhausted. Stand firm in your faith and fear Allah, so that you may triumph.” (3:200) May Allah protect and guide us. Yours sincerely, Iqbal AKM Sacranie Secretary General The Muslim Council of Britain
Though Islam is woven into the fabric of the country’s history, Moroccans and other Arabs living there today are struggling to find their place in society as well as their role in the Muslim world. Mustafa Bougrine is a Moroccan who has lived in Spain for 19 years. He’s married to a Spanish woman and runs a restaurant. He fears that a new feeling of Islamophobia may be growing in the Spanish population. “When people hear the word ‘Islam’, they think about Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi, but that’s not Islam,” he says. “I’m against every form of fanaticism, suicide bombers and everything that is referred to as ‘jihad’. Muslims here in Spain believe in democracy and peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Change is definitely brewing among Madrid’s Muslims. The city’s Lavapies neighborhood (see related link below), where many immigrants live and the suspected culprits of the March 11 terrorist attacks ran a telephone shop, has practically come to a standstill. The mosque on the M30 highway beltway is the largest in Madrid. But these days it’s conspicuously empty. Before last Thursday’s terrorist attacks on the city, as many as 1,000 would come at a single time to pray here. Now it’s difficult to find more than 50 people who have come here to pray in the direction of Mecca. Many Muslims are staying home and out of the public eye as Spanish investigators shift their focus from Basque separatists toward the attack’s suspected Moroccan culprits. Spanish newspapers are reporting sources alleging links between Thursday’s terrorist attacks and bombings in Casablanca last May that also killed dozens of Spaniards. The developments have sent shockwaves through Spain’s Muslim community, which is struggling to establish its own identity in a staunchly Catholic country. An influx of economic refugees Close to 600,000 Muslims live in Spain, with the majority originating from northern Africa’s Maghreb countries, mostly Morocco which is located just kilometers across the Straight of Gibraltar. Islam is not a new religion in Spain. No other European country has as many traces of the religion in its history. For several hundred years, right up till the end of the 15th century, Islam was a dominant presence on the Iberian Peninsula. Most of those living here today came during the 1980s. Their numbers grew in the 1990s as they took jobs in Spain’s growing agricultural, construction, hospitality and service industry. They are the silent majority of Spain’s Muslims. Many of the dominant voices heard in Spain are those of Spanish Islam converts or leaders of Islamic cultural centers financed by the Saudi Arabian government — groups that play a prominent role in negotiating the rights and duties of Muslims within the Spanish state. Finding their place But for most Moroccans, eking out a living is the most important aspect of daily life. Through countless grassroots associations, Moroccans in Spain are fighting for their economic survival as well as the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods. Muhammad Chouirdi works for the Association of Moroccan Workers and Immigrants. He finds alarming the miserable circumstances under which his fellow countrymen are forced to fulfill their religious obligations. Strapped for cash, the temptation to take money from other Arab groups is tempting, but the political dangers are considerable. Moroccan Muslim leaders like Chouidiri are also wary of other branches of Islam, which they fear are being accepted uncritically by Moroccan immigrants. “We suspect that small Moroccan living-room mosques on the outskirts of Madrid are already receiving Saudi Arabian money,” Chouirdi explains. “By doing so, Saudi Arabia is trying to spread its form of Islam and practices — primarily Wahhabi Muslim. The probelm is that Moroccan immigrants have a low level of education and there’s a danger that they will not recognize the danger of these religious practices. For them, practicing Islam means praying give times a day and following many rules. What we get from the outside world — in this case from Saudi Arabia — is accepted with out critical discussion.” Islam from Saudi Arabia, with its fundamentalist characteristics, has spread in Spain in recent years. All the big representative mosques in Spain were built with Saudi money. And frequently the Saudis have also sent imams who interpret the Quran according to the Wahhabis. Wahhabism rejects all modernity, any dialogue between religions, any opening up to other cultures. The breeding ground for last week’s attacks could have been here. For both the culprits in the Casablanca bombing in 2003 and the alleged perpetrators of the Madrid attacks belong to terrorist groups that have been influenced by Wahhabi ideologists. A religious border Now people are asking themselves how a minority in the Muslim community could have become susceptible to Islamist propaganda. The disparities between Spain’s Catholic and Muslim societies could provide some clues. A look at Ceuta, one of the two Spanish cities on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, is revealing. Ceuta is the gateway to Europe. The border between Africa and Europe, between Islamic Morocco and Catholic Spain, is here. Half of Ceuta’s 72,000 residents are Christian, while the other half are Muslim, mainly of Moroccan origin. The chairman of Islamic Community of Ceuta, Abselam Hamadi, says that many Muslims still feel like second-class citizens, that they don’t have the same opportunities Christians have. “Only few Muslims get jobs in Ceuta’s state administration. The response is always the same: professional qualifications lacking. That’s not the truth, of course. But if more Muslims were accepted, there would be more Muslims than Christians in the administration one day, and that scares the Christians.” The fact is, Ceuta’s Muslim residents have dramatically lower standards of living and levels of education than Christian residents. They mainly live in the El Principe district, a poor, entirely Muslim neighborhood right on the border to Morocco, where integration doesn’t exist. Young Muslims born in Spain to Moroccan parents live here. They don’t feel Moroccan, but they aren’t fully accepted by Spanish society either. Many fear the promises of the “real Islamic message” may be received with open arms in communities like Ceuta, creating the kind of dangerous backdrop that could breed future terrorism.
Magdi Allam The general public and prosecutors are playing down and failing to understand the risk of having quiet terrorist cells “without weapons” that are active in Italy and are linked to Al Quaida.
Magdi Allam The arrest of four Muslims in Cremona accused of preparing a terrorist attack in Milan’s underground and against the Duomo di Milano.
Heavy handed anti-terrorist policing is driving British Muslims into the hands of al-Qa’ida and other Islamic extremist groups, David Blunkett and Scotland Yard have been warned. The Muslim community is increasingly alarmed at the number of people being arrested for suspected anti-terrorist offences, but released without charge. Extremists, such as the supporters of al-Qa’ida and al-Muhajiroun, a radical Muslim organisation, are attempting to exploit this unrest and recruit new members in Britain, the Home Secretary and the police have been told. The warning by Muslim leaders follows the arrest of 537 people by the Metropolitan Police under anti-terrorist legislation since the 11 September attacks in 2001. Of those detained, 94 have been charged with terrorist-related offences and six have been convicted.