Chapter 5: North African Involvement in Transnational Terror Networks

Non African Involvement in Transnational Terror Networks

The Transnationalisation of Domestic Terrorism



Monograph No 144, June 2008


Anneli Botha

Counter-terrorism strategies during the 1990s in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia assisted the spread and development of transnational terrorism networks in Europe. Political exclusion, mass arrests and convictions forced those involved or suspected of being involved in political opposition or acts of violence and terrorism to leave for countries where they would have more freedom to continue their activities (protected under the guise of political asylum). From these safe havens a number of individuals directed operations against their countries of origin.

At the same time, the absence of effective counter-terrorism strategies in much of Europe further assisted the spread of terrorism. Initial freedom to recruit and disseminate information had enabled members of the FIS, AIS, GIA, GSPC and GICM to establish support networks in Europe. Initially settling in France for language reasons, the GIA began a two-pronged strategy of facilitating acts of terrorism in Algeria and committing violent acts on French soil. As France’s own counter-terrorism strategies improved, the networks spread to other European countries. As will be seen in this chapter, these networks also facilitated training in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and, later, participation in the insurgency in Iraq.

While Afghanistan war veterans had exercised a great influence on domestic campaigns in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Bosnian terrorists contributed predominantly to the spread of networks and subsequent operations in European countries. Europe was no longer considered as only a facilitation network. It became a battleground, fuelled by the resentment of North African immigrant communities.

Unlike the people involved in the 9/11 attacks on the US, who were mostly Saudis and Egyptians, most of the attacks in Europe have been carried out by North African groups such as the GIA, GSPC, GICM and allied groups in Libya and Tunisia. Al-Qa’eda, as mentioned earlier, made use of these established networks, particularly those of the GIA/GSPC, through common ideology, training and operations, to enhance its own operations in Europe.

It is therefore essential to place recent developments in Europe in a historical context. In countries with the most developed systems of political asylum and basic human rights and civil liberties, it was relatively easy for groups such as the GIA/GSPC from Algeria, the GICM from Morocco and others from the Middle East to set up structures to support campaigns in their countries of origin. Networks that had previously concentrated on propaganda and fund-raising transformed themselves into networks for recruitment and for facilitating the transnationalisation of what had previously been domestic terrorism.

While a detailed discussion of the importance of Europe to the development of transnational terrorism and the role of North Africa is beyond the scope of this chapter, some salient points should be noted.

The establishment of immigrant communities in Europe provided a safe haven for individuals coming from their respective countries of origin. The question of integration and associated isolation enhanced a sense of brotherhood of these communities. The close proximity of Europe and liberal immigration laws made entry to these countries relatively easy. Activities such as the illegal narcotics trade and the forging of official documents, in which some members of the immigrant communities often participated, made it relatively easy to merge organised crime and terrorism. As with France, networks were established in Italy, Germany, the UK and other countries for the procurement of weaponry destined for Algeria.

A sophisticated forgery cell in Rouiba, Algeria, led by an unnamed businessman from Bordj Menaiel, had some 20 members and specialised in the production of fake seals and stamps, residence documents, visas and passports. Active between 2000 and 2006, this cell also organised the escape of members of the GIA/GSPC members from Algeria to Spain. The cell’s network extended to Algiers, Boumerdes and Tizi Ouzou. Among the items seized by the authorities in February 2006 were fake seals from the air and border police, the Algerian customs service and Algerian consulates in Spain (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2006l).
Prior to the events of 9/11, some European security agencies were believed to have turned a blind eye to these support networks as the perception existed that they did not present a domestic threat. This perception dramatically changed after 9/11 and especially after the Madrid and London bombings when it became clear that terrorist networks and some members of immigrant communities had changed their focus to include attacks in their host countries.

European countries also realised that in addition to the involvement of individuals wanted in other countries who had made use of political asylum, or of other illegal networks, a number of individuals involved in attacks such as the London bombings had had no previous connection with extremism or criminal activities but had been second and third generation immigrants, who had been radicalised by established extremists often wanted in other countries.

Three generations of al-Qa’eda supporters were thus discernable – newly radicalised established immigrants representing the third generation, those trained in al-Qa’eda training camps representing the second generation, and those who had participated in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan as well as the war in Bosnia representing the first generation.

Unemployment, racial intolerance and a growing perception that the war against terrorism was a war against Islam made it relatively easy for already radicalised individuals from countries such as Algeria, as well as individuals linked with the Afghan Mujahideen and Bosnian fighters, to recruit willing followers. For example, Mohamed el Maghrebi, an Algerian who had settled in Paris, played an important role in the radicalisation of Willy Brigitte, a French national who had received training under Laskhar-e-Taiba in Pakistan. Brigitte was later arrested on suspicion of coordinating a plot to attack Australia’s energy network (Australian Broadcasting Committee, 2004).

It should be noted, as established in earlier chapters, that activities particularly in Europe, were not limited to individuals representing similar nationalities. Instead transnational networks were well established and interacted with other networks across borders. In addition, European support cells became specialised, at least to a certain extent. For example, a cell in France run by Karim Bourti made use of a network of fake brand-named clothing for fund-raising (Pecastaing 2004:156), while Bourti also sent recruits to al-Qa’eda camps via London to Afghanistan. A second example, was the cell in Spain which specialised in forging documents and passports (Schanzer 2002). Also, the six members of the GSPC arrested in Italy in June 2003 included Tunisian as well as Moroccan nationals. The depth of the GSPC’s network in Europe had already become apparent when in April 2000 police broke up cells in Italy and France that were believed to be planning to bomb a French market.

These networks were predominantly influenced by Afghanistan and Bosnian Mujahideen. Nationals from the three countries under review continued their involvement in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya as well as the second wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The particular influence of the Bosnian Mujahideen will be apparent throughout this monograph. For example, Abu el-Ma’ali, alias Abdelkader Mokhtari, as well as former GIA commanders Abu Muhajir al-Djazairi and Abu Sabir al-Djazairi, established an Algerian cell in Bosnia, while Al-Hajj Boudella, an Algerian combat instructor, transferred from the Al-Sadda training camp in Afghanistan to Bosnia in 1992 (Kohlmann 2004:20;62).

Fuelling perceptions of a coordinated strategy in Europe, Spanish court documents referred to the fact that Moroccan, Libyan and Tunisian terror groups had met in February 2002 in Istanbul, Turkey, under the auspices of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian radical who led al-Qa’eda in Iraq, to plot how to bring holy war to Europe (Johnson et al 2005). This development spelled serious consequences for European security forces.

The involvement of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian nationals in transnational acts of terrorism were however not limited to Europe: Among many examples of the involvement of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian nationals in networks in Europe was the 3 July 2005 killing in Riyadh by Saudi security forces of the country’s most wanted man, the al-Qa’eda leader in Saudi Arabia, Younis Mohammad Ibrahim al-Hayyari, who was originally from Morocco and who was also suspected of being involved in attacks in Riyadh carried out four days before the Casablanca suicide bombings. Two Moroccans were also accused of planning to hijack an aircraft in order to crash into a building in Jeddah (AFP 2004k). Other examples that will be discussed in this chapter include Lebanon and Iraq.

The following country-by-country discussion summarises the involvement of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian nationals in terrorism networks in Europe and the Middle East.


In September 2004 a GSPC cell was implicated in the recruitment for foreign fighters for Iraq near Tripoli, Lebanon, and the Ayn al-Hilwah Palestinian refugee camp, also in Lebanon. Lebanon served as an important part of the network for Algerian fighters. According to Algeria News, in July 2007 Syrians and a Lebanese living in Beirut were in charge of the reception of volunteer jihadists (Algeria Events 2007). These new recruits received training in combat and explosives before being sent to Iraq or Algeria.

Tunisian and Algerian nationals were also involved in Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon. On 20 May 2007, the Tunisians listed below, who were among a group of 59 individuals which also included Syrian, Saudi Arabian, Yemeni, Egyptian and Palestinian nationals, were charged with a number of terrorist and related offences.
The Tunisians involved were:

Algerians in the group included:

month later, on 20 June 2007, Syrian security forces in Lebanon announced that they had arrested 40 Algerians who were attempting to join Fatah al-Islam (BBC Monitoring Newsfile 2007b).


France was the first choice for Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants, as well as Islamists fleeing prosecution in their countries of origin. As already indicated, a common language was one of the primary reasons. As a result of attacks directed at French residents of Algeria (referred to in Chapter 2), French security forces began to crack down on GIA networks in France.

In addition to its network to support its operations in Algeria, Gunaratna (2002:162-163) confirmed that al-Qa’eda had infiltrated the FIS and the GIA in the early 1990s with the aim of demonising France among Algerians living in France. Subsequently, in addition to targeting French and other Western residents in Algeria, the GIA was able to mount several attacks against France in 1995 and 1996. Three examples of detonations in Paris were:

Confirming the involvement of Algerian nationals, French police arrested ten suspects, including Boualem Bensaid (28), an Algerian student, in Lille in November 1995. Bensaid appeared to have acted as a go-between for terrorist cells operating in France and the GIA. Investigators revealed that the GIA recruited potential terrorists in suburban slums in France populated by North African immigrants, many of them unemployed. Confiscated material included documents, computers and accounting statements that shed light on how the terrorist network received logistical and financial support from outside France (Drozdiak 2005).

Khaled Kelkal, who held Algerian and French citizenship and who was directly linked through his fingerprints on an unexploded device, ran an information bureau in contact with Human Concern International, based in Stockholm and Zagreb which served as a staging point for the GIA’s transnational operations. Kelkal, who was trained in Afghanistan, was also involved in an international Arab-Afghan network. He was killed in a shootout with French police in October 1995. A firearm found in his possession had been used earlier to kill Sheikh Abdelbaki Sahraoui, a co-founder of the FIS. Kelkal was believed to be a member of a group which travelled across Europe to hunt down Algerian dissidents in exile who were against the use of violence in Algeria (Kohlmann 2004:142).

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian and a member of the GIA, worked with the Roubaix cell as well as al-Qa’eda on another Paris metro bombing, this time in 1996 at Port Royal, killing and injuring 91 people. Ressam was also implicated and prosecuted for his involvement in the 2000 plot to blow up Los Angeles international airport (the millennium plot) (Williams 2002:123). Two members of this cell, Boualem Bensaid, the mastermind of the Saint-Michel attack, and Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, the group’s bomb expert, were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002.

Earlier, in September 1999, French prosecutors had convicted 21 other members of the Roubaix cell, including Bensaid, Belkacem and Karim Koussa to six to ten years’ imprisonment (Gunaratna 2002:164). Rachid Ramda, who operated from the UK, was extradited to France in 2005 where he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment before further charges were brought against him in 2007 for his involvement in at least three bombings, including the 1995 attack on the Saint-Michel metro, for which he had been the financier. Prosecutors also suspected Ramda of handling the group’s propaganda through his contacts with GIA cell members in Lille, Lyon and Paris (Von Derschau 2007a). Koussa, who was implicated in a number of GIA terror plots, had received training in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Kohlmann 2004:143).

The Roubaix cell was linked to the GIA as well as to al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Egypt) and the Mujahideen in Bosnia, particularly Abu el-Ma’ali and Fateh Kamel. After a shootout with French police, the apartment that served as a Roubaix hideout blew up, killing Rachid Souindi and Said el-Laihar, two Moroccans, and Teli bel Hachen, an Algerian. However, Lionel Dumont and Mouloud Boughelane, who were leaders of the cell, escaped (Kohlmann 2004:195).

Although German authorities had primary jurisdiction over the Strasbourg plot, which involved the Frankfurt cell, French authorities conducted their own investigations and convicted the following individuals (Vidino 2006:165):

Following several successful prosecutions of the GIA in France its members established cells in Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland. As Ambassador Ramtane Lamaara told a US House subcommittee hearing on Africa in the aftermath of the bombings in France: ‘The international dimensions of the Algerian terrorist groups became proven facts, as cells with links to Iran, Afghanistan and Bosnia were identified or dismantled in France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany and the UK’ (Lama 1998).

After 9/11, the involvement of Algerian nationals in transnational terrorism was better recorded. French authorities in particular arrested and convicted a large number of Algerians for their involvement in the GIA. For example, on 30 November 2001, 19 GIA supporters were convicted in Paris for channelling arms and false identity documents to terrorists in Algeria (Ganley 2001). One of them, Laurent Mourad, a member of the London Algerian network, had travelled to Paris in 2001 where he reported his passport stolen on five separate occasions, being issued with new passports on each occasion and handing on his old passports to other GIA members including Said Arif (Vidino 2006:173).

A more recent example was the extradition of Said Arif from Syria to France. Arif, alias Slimane Chabani, alias Abderrahmane, who was born in Oran, Algeria, deserted from the army and spent time in al-Qa’eda training camps in Afghanistan. According to French officials, he was one of the closest lieutenants of al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist behind beheadings and a number of bombings in Iraq. Arif also had close relations with the Algerian cell based in Frankfurt, Germany, which had been involved in the Strasbourg plot. He escaped capture on that occasion and reached the Caucasus, specifically Georgia, where he collaborated with al-Qa’eda and veterans of Afghan camps. He was later arrested in France for his involvement in the ricin plot. The network was dismantled in December 2002 with the arrest of nine suspects in the Paris suburbs of La Courneuve and Romainville (Dow Jones International News 2004c). This cell, which was led by Merouane Benahmed, an emir of the GIA, specialised in making bombs with electronic detonators. Benahmed was trained in al-Qa’eda training camps in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

On 16 December 2002 French police raided an apartment in Romainville, Paris and arrested three Algerians and one Moroccan who were members of the La Corneuve cell. Canisters containing cyanide and butane were found, as well as a protective suit, used when in contact with chemical and biological weapons, propaganda material, fake identity and travel documents, instructions on the production of cyanide and other toxic materials and videos on the jihad in Chechnya. One of men arrested was Menad Benchellali, who had received chemical as well as military training in Afghanistan and Chechnya and who was known as an al-Qa’eda recruiter. Another was Belmehel Beddaidj, who confirmed the connection with the La Corneuve cell, which planned to attack Russian targets, more details of which became known after the arrest in January 2005 of Maamar Ouazane and two other Algerians. According to Ouazane, the cells planned to attack the Russian Embassy in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, a large department store and a police station (Vidino 2006:176-177;179).

At Trappes in September 2005, four men were arrested and charged with targeting the metro at Orly airport outside Paris. They included the cell leader, Safe Bourada, a French citizen of Algerian origin (Reuters 2007k).

In June 2006 a French court convicted 25 Islamist militants of planning terror attacks in Paris and of recruiting fighters to send to Chechnya and Afghanistan. Four ringleaders, who were either Algerians or of Algerian descent, received jail sentences of between nine and ten years. Khaled Ouldali, identified as one of the suspects, was a former member of FIS who had travelled to Chechnya twice and fought under the command of Ibn ul-Khattab. Most of the Algerians who participated in the conflict in Chechnya belonged to the London network headed by Abu Doha (Vidino 2006:174).

The United Kingdom

The UK has been an attractive haven for extremists, even before 9/11. As already indicated, Rachid Ramda, the financier of the 1995 Paris metro attacks, had operated from the UK before being extradited to France in 2005. In addition to financing terrorism, Ramda had been actively involved in publishing Al Ansar, the GIA’s official newsletter. Further Nadir Remli, the former head of the GIA cell in London, was linked to Abu-Qatadah al-Falistini (a radical Palestinian-Jordanian cleric who stayed in the UK since the early 1990s after claming political asylum), while Abu-Hamza al-Misri used the network in London to distribute Al Ansar and other GIA publications (Vidino 2006:138).

The alleged head of the GIA group in London, Nadir Remli (47), and Mohamed Dnidni, who was believed to have been one of the main GIA officials in Great Britain for five years, had been under investigation in France and Britain since 1994 when Dr Benali Sitayeb, a Briton of Algerian origin, Dr Abderhamane Bihi, an Algerian, and three other Algerians, Rachid Messaoudi, Abdesallam Bandaoud and Rachid Elgerbouzi, were interrogated for their suspected involvement in the GIA in London (Reuters 1994c).

Despite a warning from Algeria, Remli had been given British citizenship after being classified as a political refugee in 1991, having lived in Britain since 1983 and being married to an Irish woman. He had subsequently been one of the founders of the Algerian Community in Great Britain (ACB), an NGO that acted as an extension of the FIS in Great Britain. During 1996, Remli continued to hand out copies of at-Tabsirah or ‘The Enlightenment’, an FIS newsletter, outside the Regent’s Park mosque (The Independent 1996). In addition to distributing the newspaper, the GIA under the leadership of Remli in London sold video material that included footage of the murders of police and government officials. This was probably one of the first examples of video material being sold to fund acts of terrorism in Algeria (AFP 1996). In June 1999, Remli and Kanerdine Kherbane confirmed that the GIA and El-Baqoun ala el ahd, or Faithful to the Pledge, had merged in 1998, using the offices of the ACB as a cover for their activities (All Africa 1999). On 24 February 2005, Italian security forces arrested Remli at a Rome airport in the company of his son. Wanted since 1992 by the Algerian authorities, Remli was accused of supplying money to GIA groups in Algeria since 1992 by setting up a bank account at an Arab bank in London. They were both on an Algerian list of terrorists close to the al-Qa’eda network that was sent to Interpol and the UN (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2005i).

It was, however, Rashid Bukhalfa, alias Abu Doha, alias the Doctor, who played an instrumental role in the GSPC’s transformation from a local armed group to an international terrorist organisation. In charge of GSPC fund-raising in London, Abu Doha, who had reached the rank of emir of an Afghanistan training camp, was also responsible for recruiting fighters for Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia (Hafez 2007:204). By the end of the 1990s he had extended his focus from Algeria to al-Qa’eda’s broader objectives. He was, for example, in contact with al-Zarqawi and Ahmed Ressam (Joscelyn 2005). He moved to the UK in 1999, where he helped to recruit GSPC members from the large communities of disenfranchised Algerian youth in European cities. From the beginning, Abu Doha cooperated with Seifallah Ben Hassine, a Tunisian who also lived in London, who had also been an emir of a training camp in Afghanistan and who had recruited Tunisians to fight in Algeria (Vidino 2006:143;147) .

The Finsbury Park mosque played a central role in the activities of the London network. The Algerian Afghans who had sought refuge in London were looked after by the ACB, part of the Human Concern International network, an Islamist NGO that had been blacklisted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Allegedly, individuals associated with the Algerian Refugee Council, with links to the Finsbury Park mosque, also assisted in the settling in of Algerian extremists in the UK. In March 2003, Dr Mohammed Sekkoum, the chairman of the Council however revealed that a substantial number of active ‘terrorists’ have slipped into the country with their families, seeking asylum. When he informed the British immigration service about them, the authorities told him that it had nothing to do with him (BBC News 2003). The Algerian network used the Finsbury Park mosque as its unofficial headquarters, with radicals using the mosque’s basement in the mid 1990s for planning attacks, forging documents and firearms training. During this period Abu Doha began to establish the network with the assistance of Abu Hamza and the religious teachings of Abu Qatadah. The mosque was also used to show video material and to distribute the literature of various militant groups. Despite warnings from North African and Middle Eastern countries, these activities were largely ignored by the British authorities. While in London in 1996, Yacine Aknouche, one of the militants sentenced for his involvement in the Strasbourg plot, had been radicalised by Abu Qatadah’s sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque before being recruited by Abu Doha to go to Afghanistan. Imad Kanuni, a French-Moroccan detained in Guantanamo Bay, had spent time at the Finsbury Park mosque after returning from training camps in Afghanistan (Vidino 2006:187;189;190;191).

Further assisting Abu Doha to coordinate cells across Europe were Rabah Kadre, Tarek Maaroufi, a Tunisian living in Brussels, and Mohammed Bensakhria. Maaroufi and Bensakhria helped Doha to create a large support network in Europe that provided recruits with money, accommodation and forged documents. After being arrested on 26 December 2000 after raids on al-Qa’eda cells in Milan and Frankfurt, Mohammed Bensakhria, alias Muhammad Ben Aissa, alias Meliani, an Algerian who headed al-Qa’eda’s Frankfurt cell, gave evidence of the use of GSPC members by al-Qa’eda (Gunaratna 2002:173-174). Kadre, also implicated in the Strasbourg plot, was arrested in Britain where he was charged as the mastermind in the cyanide plot against London’s underground. Abu Doha himself was arrested at Heathrow airport, London, in 2000 when trying to leave for Saudi Arabia on a false passport. While in British custody, Doha had extradition proceedings brought against him by the US for the millennium plot, by Italy for the plot to attack the US embassy in Rome, and by France and Germany for the Strasbourg plot (Vidino 2006:157-158).

After 9/11, British security forces took official notice of activities they had previously disregarded. In April 2003, in the first case linked to al-Qa’eda in Britain, Baghdad Meziane and Brahim Benmerzouga, two Algerians, were each jailed for 11 years after being found guilty of financing terrorism (Reuters 2007l). Two years later, in April 2005, Kamel Bourgass (32), alias Nadir Habra, another Algerian and suspected al-Qa’eda member, was convicted of plotting to launch ricin and other chemical and bomb attacks on London, as well as for the murder of Detective Stephen Oake after Bourgass’s Manchester flat was raided in Manchester in 2004. Bourgass, who was sentenced to 22 years for this murder, had spent time in Afghanistan training camps (Winter 2007). In the same trial as Bourgass, another Algerian, Mouhoud Sihali, was acquitted but was re-arrested after the July 2005 bombings in London. He was then the subject of an extradition application by Algeria (AFP 2007m).

After Spanish authorities had claimed that there were a number of links between the bombers and militant figures based in Britain, London Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens confirmed that a definite link had been established between the Madrid bombers and al-Qa’eda sympathisers sheltering in Britain. While it had previously been thought that the British connection was restricted to financial and logistical help, the Spanish claims included an allegation that the clerics at the Finsbury Park mosque had played a pivotal role in controlling the bombers. In the months after the bombings, several links with London emerged. Jamal Zougam (30), a Moroccan detained in Madrid and accused of direct involvement in making the 13 bombs placed on commuter trains, allegedly travelled to London on several occasions for logistical help and to obtain forged documents for the al-Qa’eda cell in Spain.

Zougam and many of the other 18 suspects detained in Madrid, as well as the seven dead, were either members of or were closely associated with the GICM network in the UK. Abu Qatadah, previously referred to as one of the spiritual leaders of the Finsbury Park mosque, was described by Spanish authorities as al-Qa’eda’s spiritual adviser in Europe, whose followers formed the command structure of al-Qa’eda in Spain. Until his release in 2005, he was held at Belmarsh prison in southeast London under emergency terror legislation (Owen 2004).

Mohammed al-Guerbouzi (40), alias Abu Aissa El Meghribi, who was born in Laraich, Morocco, was one of the first to be implicated in the London bombings of 7 and 21 July 2005. Notwithstanding Morocco’s earlier attempts in 2003 and 2004 to extradite Guerbouzi, the UK had not been able to assist as no extradition treaty between the two countries had yet been finalised (AFP 2005d). Although circumstances changed dramatically after the London bombings, the UK was still not prepared to grant unqualified deportation. Instead, it insisted (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2005h) that:

If the Moroccan authorities accepted the British conditions, the signing of the memorandum was due to have taken place in 2006.

Guerbouzi had been sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in absentia by a court in Rabat on 19 December 2003 for his alleged involvement in the Casablanca bombings. Evidence presented to a Moroccan court claimed that he had helped the Casablanca bombers to obtain false passports and money. A report by the Moroccan attorney-general’s office following its international arrest warrant claimed that Guerbouzi had been involved in the following activities (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2005g):

The British Home Office revealed in 2004 that eight of the ten people then detained under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which is monitored by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, were Algerians (Steele 2004):

On 24 August 2005, Atamnia Yacine, an Algerian wanted by Britain in connection with the July bombings in London, was arrested in the Sukhumvit Soi Nana area in Bangkok, Thailand. He was in possession of 180 fake French and Spanish passports and was believed to have provided false travel documents to the bomb suspects (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific 2005). The EU had previously named Thailand as a hub for document forgery. On 3 August 2005, Mahieddine Daikh (35), a UK citizen of Algerian origin, had been arrested in Bangkok for trying to smuggle more than 450 forged European passports from Thailand to Scotland (AFP 2005e).

In July 2007, Younes Tsouli, a Moroccan, British-born Waseem Mughal and Jordanian-born Tariq al-Daour were sentenced to a total of 24 years in prison for inciting terrorism over the internet in the first case of its kind in Britain. Tsouli (23) had set up a site to host video files and other documentation that had eventually became the de facto administrator of the online jihadist forum Muntada al-Ansar al-Islami, at one time the main internet public relations mouthpiece of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Waseem Mughal (24), a law student, was found with a computer containing a 26-minute video in Arabic containing instructions for making suicide-bomb vests and home-made explosives. Tariq al-Daour (21), a biochemistry student, was charged with using computer viruses and stolen credit card accounts to set up a network of communications forums and websites inciting violence (Krebs 2007).


An estimated 300 suspected extremists were arrested in Spain following the 9/11 attacks in the US. Many of them had been on North African wanted lists since moving to Europe in the 1990s to establish networks in European countries, including Spain. Since 9/11 and, later, the Madrid bombings of 2003, European countries acknowledged that many extremists had abused the liberal democracies and their almost open-arms policy towards political asylum seekers. Nonetheless Spanish police arrested seven GIA members in Valencia in April 1997 (Gunaratna 2002:165).

Investigations after 9/11 led to a number of arrests, convictions and deportations. Among those that received attention was a member of the Hofstad network, Muhammad Achraf, an Algerian who headed a group in Spain called ‘Martyrs for Morocco’, who was in contact with Mohammed Bouyer, who had been prosecuted in the Netherlands for the murder of Theo Van Gogh. In addition to procuring funds for the Hofstad group, Achraf was wanted by Spanish police for his part in an October 2004 plot to attack the country’s national court, which was the headquarters of the Madrid bombing investigations (Atwan 2006:239-240).
As already mentioned, Algerians returning to France from Chechnya preferred to travel via Spain, which had a strong GSPC base. In addition to Merouane Benahmed, who used this route in 2002, Noureddine Merabet was arrested on the Franco-Spanish border on 21 December 2002 on his way to France (Vidino 2006:177). In April 2004 a Spanish judge charged four Algerian members of the GSPC with membership of al-Qa’eda (AFP 2004d). The four had worked in support of the French cell led by Benahmed, who was arrested in December 2002, and had received training in Afghanistan from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A mobile phone detonator, similar to those used in the Bali nightclub and Madrid train bombing attacks, was found in their possession (Reuters 2004b).

In July 2004 Morocco warned Spain that it had lost track of 400 of the 600 Moroccan Islamist militants who had trained in al-Qa’eda camps in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya (Reuters 2004c). However, a Spanish report of 17 December 2004 indicated that police had arrested four Moroccans on suspicion of belonging to an armed Islamist group, including one man believed to be linked to the 11 March train bombings that killed and injured 191 people. The arrests took place on the Spanish Canary Island of Lanzarote, off the coast of Morocco. All four were suspected of belonging to the GICM. The leader was identified as Hassan El Haski (41), who had been the subject of an arrest warrant for the Madrid bombings. He was also suspected of being behind the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on 2 November 2004 in Amsterdam (AFP 2004e). The others ranged in age from 31 to 40 years and one was described as an imam in a Spanish mosque. Their homes were being searched. The four were suspected of attempting to establish a logistical base on Lanzarote (Reuters 2004d).

On 27 December 2004 a Madrid judge also charged three Moroccans with belonging to a radical cell that planned to buy explosives for a terrorist attack in Spain or Morocco. Majid Bakkali, Mohamed Douha and Mustafa Farhaoui were charged with being members of a terrorist group and conspiracy to buy explosives. Bakkali and Douha were arrested in northeast Spain on 22 December, while Farhaoui was picked up three days later. Police had begun watching the group in September when they made contact with a suspected intermediary in an unspecified central European country for the purchase of explosives (Dow Jones International News 2004d).

On 3 January 2006, Spanish authorities arrested Mohammed Aberrada (20), a Moroccan, on an international arrest warrant issued by Morocco on suspicion of belonging to the GSPC. Mohamed Larbi Ben Sellam, another Moroccan suspected of aiding the Iraq insurgency, was also in custody, and in May 2006 the Spanish parliament agreed to extradite both Aberrada and Sellam to Morocco (AFP 2006c).

On another international arrest warrant, Spanish authorities arrested Mbark el Jaafari in early February 2007 in Reus. Government sources said that el Jaafari was suspected of having received training in Afghanistan and of belonging to a terrorist structure in the service of al-Qa’eda and to the GSPC, which were dedicated to the recruitment of volunteers for the holy war in Morocco, Iraq and Algeria. The sources said that this terrorist structure was believed to have planned over a period of nine months to send 32 suicide bombers to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq and to plan operations inside Morocco after receiving training in GSPC training camps (AFP 2007n).

On 9 February 2007 a court in Madrid sentenced five Algerian members of a group of 16 Algerians and Moroccans who had been arrested in Barcelona in January 2003 to 13 years’ imprisonment. The five were Mohamed Tahraoui, Ali Kouka, Smail Boudjelthi, Souhil Kouka and Mohamed Amine Benoura. A sixth, Mohammed Nebbar, was found not guilty. According to the court, three of the five had formed a militant cell in the late 1990s after they had left Algeria. ‘The cell, which had contact with other suspected Islamist radicals in Britain, France and Germany, was believed to have worked to spread extremist Islamist propaganda, to recruit followers among Muslims in Spain, and to organise safe houses for combatants on the run and storage points for material needed to carry out the attacks’ (AP 2007k).

Mohammed Laksir and Miftah Idrissi, two Moroccans suspected of being members of the Islamic Party of Liberation, were arrested in Barcelona on 26 June 2007 on suspicion of planning to travel to Iraq to participate in the insurgency. Instead of standing trial in Spain, the Spanish government approved the extradition of the two suspects to Morocco in October 2007 (AFP 2007o).

Casablanca and Madrid bombings

The involvement of North African countries in the Madrid bombings was confirmed when the two Moroccan Beniyach brothers wanted for the 11 March attacks were identified as being among the suspects who blew themselves up during a police raid in early April 2004. Of the seven bodies found in the rubble of an apartment building, only four had been officially identified, including suspected mastermind Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, alias the Tunisian, and alleged logistics chief Jamal Ahmidan, a Moroccan. Fakhet, who had moved to Spain in 1996 and who was believed to be the group’s spiritual leader, also recruited young new members at his mosque. Ahmidan, a Moroccan, was a drug dealer and cleric who had used drug money to buy dynamite. Jailed in Morocco in 2000 for murder, Ahmidan was allegedly radicalised during his imprisonment (The Guardian 2007). Another suspect, Salahuddin Beniyach, a Moroccan who had fought in Chechnya in the Khattab Brigade, served as an example of the role of former Chechnyan fighters in the cell (Vidino 2006:208).

Of 18 Madrid bombing suspects in custody, 14 were Moroccans. According to a report, the GICM had sleeper cells in Britain, Belgium, France, Italy and Canada. After Noureddine Nfia, its leader, had been arrested, Taeb Ben Tizi had been appointed the new leader, with Mohamed Guerbouzi his deputy. Contact with al-Qa’eda was established in July 2000 when Nfia met Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri, the leader of the original Egypt-based Jamaat al-Jihad al-Islami, was known to have been Osama bin Laden’s second in command (AFP 2004f).

In follow-up operations, police arrested five people believed to have helped three suspects to escape from Morocco after the 2004 bombings. The three who escaped were Mohamed Afalah, who died in a subsequent suicide attack in Iraq in May 2005, and Mohamed Belhaj and Daoud Ouhnane, who were believed to have joined foreign fighters in Iraq. The five arrested were Zohaib Khadiri, Djilali Boussiri, Nasreddine Ben Laid Amrii, Taha Seghrouchni and Kamal Ahbar (Dow Jones International News 2007j). During the arrest police seized false documents, receipts for telephone calls to Afghanistan, cash and three computers (Reuters 2007m). Samir Tahtah, who was also part of the network, was subsequently imprisoned after being convicted of belonging to a Syrian-based network recruiting suicide bombers to attack US troops in Iraq.

A second group, Salafia Jihadia, was implicated in both the Madrid and the Casablanca bombings. The GICM is believed to have been the forerunner of Salafia Jihadia, which was the first radical Islamist movement in Morocco. According to the US State Department, the GICM, which was formed in the late 1990s, included Moroccans trained in Afghanistan.

Three of the suspects detained after the Madrid bombings were reported to be Moroccans, including alleged al-Qa’eda member Jamal Zougam (30), who left Morocco three weeks after the Casablanca suicide attacks. Zougam, who was arrested two days after the bombings, was believed to have been a link between the GICM – blamed for the bombings in Casablanca – and a Spanish al-Qa’eda cell, especially since Zougam met Guerbouzi, a leader of the GICM based in the UK, prior to the attack. Zougam was also understood to have been acquainted with the man assumed to have headed the former al-Qa’eda cell in Spain, Imadeddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah (Wright 2004).

Nationals from other North African countries implicated in initial investigations after the Madrid bombings included (Johnson 2005):

Another of the suspected radicals, Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, alias Abu Musab, had settled in Madrid in the 1980s before (according to Spanish court documents) moving to London in 1995 where he edited the internal magazine of the GIA. He left London in about 1998, apparently for Afghanistan. Spanish police believe that he may have played a role in the Madrid bombings. He briefly resurfaced on an Islamist website in June 2005 with a call to arms to Muslim youth to join the jihad in Iraq (Johnson and Vitzthum 2001).

On 1 February 2005, Spain’s interior minister announced that security forces had arrested four members of the same Moroccan family who had been directly linked to the Madrid bombings. They were husband and wife Allal Moussaten (43) and Safia Belhaj (42) and their sons Brahim and Mohamed Moussaten. The four were believed to have had links with the GICM. They were arrested in the Madrid suburb of Leganes following police operations in Belgium, France and Spain (AFP 2005f).

Later, in December 2006, and with the agreement of the Moroccan government, Spanish authorities went to Morocco to interrogate several Moroccans suspected of being involved in the Madrid bombings. They were Khaled Isik, Mohamed Haddad, Hicham Hmidane, Abdelilah Ahriz and Mustapha Mimouni. Mimouni, who was serving a 15-year sentence in Tangiers, knew Abdelmajid Sarhane who was married to Mimouni’s sister. Spanish authorities found a handwritten note and fingerprints in an apartment in Leganes, Madrid, that was blown up after the Madrid attack (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2006m).

The following individuals from North Africa were indicted on 15 February 2007 for their involvement in the 2004 Madrid bombings (AFP 2007p).

Iraq recruitment and training

Links between Morocco and Spain were not limited to groups planning and executing acts of terrorism in Morocco and Spain. For example, after Spanish police had arrested Mbark el-Jaffari, a Moroccan, in Reus in 2007, he was charged with recruiting GSPC members to conduct operations in Morocco, Algeria and Iraq. At the time, the Spanish interior minister commented: ‘This terrorist structure is believed to have made moves to send, since May last year, 32 suicide bombers, after being trained in Algerian training camps, to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq and to plan operations inside Morocco’ (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007q).

El-Jaffari was, however, not the first such person arrested. In June 2005, for example, Spanish authorities arrested 20 people across Spain, suspected of belonging to cells recruiting volunteers to be sent to Iraq. They included 15 Moroccans, three Spaniards, an Algerian and a Turk. Larbi Ben Sellam, the Algerian, was believed to have organised the flight from Spain of suspected bombers Mohamed Afalah, Mohamed Belhaj and probably Daoud Ohnane.

Later, in January 2006, Spanish police announced that they had arrested Omar Nakcha (23), a Moroccan whom they suspected of being the leader of two cells recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq. Nakcha was also believed to have helped suspects in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings to flee the country. He was arrested near Santa Coloma de Gramanet in the Catalonia region of northeast Spain. Nakcha also organised the movement of suspects from Belgium to Iraq via Syria. In addition he also supplied fighters to the leader of an al-Qa’eda cell in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and had ties with the GICM and the GSPC. His cell was allegedly also in touch with sympathisers in Algeria, Belgium, France, Iraq, Morocco, the Netherlands, Syria and Turkey. The cell was also implicated in an attack in November 2003 on a military base in Iraq, carried out by an unidentified Algerian and killing or injuring 28 people, including 19 Italian soldiers. This attack was claimed by al-Qa’eda (AFP 2006d), confirming the complexity of networks and operations between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

In June 2007, Spanish security forces dismantled a cell of Moroccan nationals linked to GSPC/AQLIM and charged with recruiting extremists with the aim of sending them to training camps in the Sahel. Included were Mohamed Lachgar (23), Moulay Lahsene Drissi (27) and Mohamed Agzin (32) (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007dk). Abdellatif Zehraoui (29) was arrested near Barcelona (AFP 2007r), while the Spanish authorities arrested six people in Burgos in October 2007 for recruiting Islamist militants to fight in the insurgency in Iraq. Abdelkader Ayachine, an Algerian who allegedly led this cell, ran a Muslim butchery in Burgos. Other members were identified as Mohamed Mouas, Smaine Kadouci and Yahia Drif from Algeria, and Wissan Lotfi and Fatima Zahrae Raissouni from Morocco. Members of the group called themselves Los Ansar, in an apparent reference to Ansar al-Islam in Iraq (Woolls 2007). According to the Spanish authorities, the suspects had used internet chat rooms to recruit militants – the first such example in Spain – as well as to distribute audiovisual material and other terrorist propaganda and to raise funds for jailed terrorists. Spanish security forces made a number of other arrests, and these cases will be discussed in the section on Iraq.

One group that increasingly raised the concern of Spanish security forces was Tanzim Tahrir al-Andalus, or the Andulusia Liberation Organisation. Headed by Nadim al-Maghrebi, it has since its formation in 2004 called for jihad against Spain, particularly the liberation of Ceuta and Melilla (BBC Monitoring Middle East 2007dl). Al-Qa’eda, through Ayman al-Zawahiri, also began to refer to Spain as al-Andalus (Indo-Asian News Service 2007). In addition to direct al-Qa’eda threats against Ceuta and Melilla, Algerian members of GSPC/AQLIM using the pseudonym of Nadim al Magrebi left a message in May 2006 on alansar, a website with links to al-Qa’eda, calling for ‘war against the Spanish state to liberate

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