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Madrid Suspect Charged in 9/11

THE WORLD

Indictment in Spain of a Moroccan fugitive reflects the growing belief that he is a link between the U.S. attacks and the train bombings.

April 29, 2004|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — A Spanish judge Wednesday charged a top suspect in last month's train bombings in Madrid as an accomplice of the Sept. 11 hijackers, saying that new evidence ties him to the alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks.

The indictment of Amer Azizi reflects the growing belief that the Moroccan fugitive is a lead operative who links the Sept. 11 plot and the train bombings that killed 191 people March 11. Witnesses have placed Azizi in Madrid after the train bombings, reinforcing suspicion that he played a central role, possibly as an emissary of Al Qaeda bosses elsewhere.

The charges, filed by veteran anti-terrorism magistrate Judge Baltasar Garzon, mean that Azizi joins a list of people, including Osama bin Laden, who are charged with terrorist murder in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Garzon had charged Azizi in September with being part of a Madrid-based cell that allegedly aided Sept. 11 plotters and other Al Qaeda figures around the world.

The biggest revelation in Wednesday's indictment was an e-mail address, found in a search of Azizi's home after he fled to Iran in late 2001, that has been linked to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the jailed Al Qaeda leader accused of masterminding the hijack attacks. U.S. agents are holding top Al Qaeda figures such as Mohammed at a secret location without charges.

"A fundamental document ... connects Amer Azizi directly with those responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and concretely with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed via the e-mail address identified as Safar86@usa.net," the indictment says. The e-mail "was being used by an individual who facilitated trips for Al Qaeda members in direct connection with [Mohammed], organizer of the attacks."

The judge has requested more information from U.S. and British agents investigating the e-mail address and the suspect who used it, documents say. A senior Spanish investigator recently told The Times that testimony from Al Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody had revealed contact between Azizi and Sept. 11 plotters via e-mail.

In addition, analysis of wiretaps from the summer of 2001 has bolstered accusations that Azizi helped coordinate a meeting in the coastal city of Tarragona between Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and fellow suspect Ramzi Binalshibh, according to the documents. The calls suggest that Azizi and an Algerian based in Tarragona were involved in the meeting in July 2001 and aware of the subsequent escape of plotters to Pakistan, according to documents.

But the charges still appear to rest largely on the connecting of dots. Police have not cracked an enduring mystery: where Atta and Binalshibh spent four days when they dropped out of sight in Spain and allegedly finalized the plot, officials say.

The indictment, however, resolves a smaller mystery. Detective work and voice analysis have led authorities to a suspect named Farid Hilali, 35, a Moroccan in custody in Britain for immigration-related offenses. Hilali has been identified as the mystery caller who made apparent references to the impending hijacking attacks during phone conversations with Imad Barakat, the alleged chief of the Madrid cell, in August 2001.

Hilali, who first moved to Britain in 1987, also spent time in Germany -- the base of Atta and Binalshibh -- in 1999 and allegedly attended an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, according to investigative documents.

Wiretaps show that Hilali told Barakat on Aug. 27, 2001, that he "had entered into the field of aviation" and "cut the throat of the eagle" -- an apparent reference to the United States. He also said he would have something to show Barakat in about a month.

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