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Mastermind of Madrid is key figure

London Times | July 11, 2005
Nick Fielding and Gareth Walsh

THE terrorist believed to have organised last year’s Madrid train attacks is emerging as a figure in the hunt for the London bombers.

Spanish security sources are said to have warned four months ago that Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a 47-year-old Syrian, had identified Britain as a likely target.

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Coded commands from the Syrian, thought to have included threats to other European countries including Britain, were found in a flat raided after the Madrid bombings in March 2004.

Spanish investigators said Nasar, now believed to be in Iraq, had set up a “sleeper” cell of terrorists in Britain. But they believed he was planning an attack to coincide with the British general election in May, rather than the G8 summit last week.

One Spanish website yesterday claimed the General Information Commission, a Spanish police intelligence body, issued a report in March warning that Britain and Spain were the primary western targets. The statement was based on Spanish investigations into the Madrid bombings.

In addition, investigators have noted strong similarities in the methods of the two multiple, coordinated bombings against public transport systems.

Last Friday, a team of Spanish detectives arrived in London to help the Metropolitan police with the investigation.

After last week’s explosions, police were believed to be looking into Mohamed el-Gerbouzi, a Moroccan living in London who has been jailed in Morocco in his absence for terrorism offences. Yesterday, however, senior Met officers were strongly discounting that he had any involvement in the London bombings.

Nasar, from Aleppo, Syria, also known as Abu Musab al-Asuri, who has a $5m (£2.9m) American bounty on his head, is believed to have fled either to Iraq or to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

He has connections with London going back more than 10 years, has mixed with many prominent terror suspects and has reportedly been arrested in Britain in connection with bombings on the Paris Metro.

When Nasar moved to London in June 1995 he was already under surveillance by Spanish police, who made a video recording of his departure with his wife Elena. They were accompanied by Abu Dahdah, a Syrian later arrested in Spain, accused of recruiting bombers and now on trial for providing support to the 9/11 conspiracy.

Once in London, Nasar moved his family into a house in Paddock Road, Neasden. From there, he edited the Al Ansar magazine, a newsletter of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group. He became an associate of the cleric Abu Qatada, one of the detainees released from Belmarsh prison last year and accused of being Al-Qaeda’s ambassador to Europe.

In January 1997 he also set up a company called Islamic Conflict Studies Bureau. In documentation filed at Companies House, Nasar describes his nationality as British.

His co-director in the company is named as Mohamed Bahaiah. Bahaiah is known to have been an Al-Qaeda courier in Afghanistan, where he is believed to have been responsible for delivering videotapes to foreign news media. Tayssir Alouni, a correspondent for the Arabic television news channel Al-Jazeera, claims to have met both men in Kabul in the late 1990s.

Nasar was reported to have been arrested by British police following the 1995 bomb attacks on the Paris Metro, but later released. The American Department of Justice said this weekend that Nasar had “served as a European intermediary for Al-Qaeda” before leaving for Afghanistan in 1998.

He is now believed to be an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al-Qaeda chief in Iraq. Some reports claim he has been spotted in London since the Madrid bombings.

Nasar is at the centre of a network of connections uncovered by British and Spanish police between Britain and the Madrid atrocities.

One of the last phone calls made by a group of seven bombers cornered in a police siege of a flat near Madrid was to a British Muslim cleric using the name Ben Salawi. After the call the bombers blew themselves up, apparently at his command. British police said the cleric’s name was not known to them but may have been an alias.

Last March a Syrian-born man was arrested and accused of helping indoctrinate the Madrid bombers, following a raid on his home in Slough, Berkshire. Moutaz Almallah Dabas, 39, is accused of renting a flat in Madrid where the men received initial training. Dabas, a Spanish citizen, is fighting extradition to Spain.

He was detained just 24 hours after his brother, Mohammad Almallah Dabas, was arrested by police in Spain. Lawyers acting for the Spanish authorities told a court that Moutaz Dabas had housed radical Islamists at a house in Madrid he owned with his brother.

“In that house, Dabas and others kept texts referring to and published by Osama Bin Laden for distribution and encouraged those who attended to pledge their affinity to the jihad ideology of Osama Bin Laden,” they told the court.

Others arrested in connection with the Madrid bombings and linked to Britain include Jamal Zougam, 31, a Moroccan believed to have visited contacts in London seeking funding, fake identities and logistical help for the terrorists.

Spanish prosecutors believe two Moroccan men who blew themselves up during the Spanish siege also spent time in London.

Within hours of the London attacks responsibility for them was claimed in an internet statement by a previously unknown group calling itself the Secret Organisation Group of Al-Qaeda.

Yesterday, a second claim of responsibility was made by Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades, which also claimed the Madrid bombings: “We will not rest until security becomes a reality in the land of Islam in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.”

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