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Methods of al-Qaida operations in Europe emerging in Spanish investigation

Methods of al-Qaida operations in Europe emerging in Spanish investigation

Author: Jerome Socolovsky, Associated Press Writer
Publication: The Associated Press
Date: November 21, 2001

Madrid, Spain, Nov 21, 2001 (AP) - In 1994, Palestinian- born Anwar Adnan Mohamed Saleh began passing out leaflets on radical Islam to other young immigrants at one of Madrid's main mosques. Over the next few years, Spanish prosecutors say, Saleh and his Syrian successor, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, persuaded at least a dozen mosque- goers to fight in Muslim holy wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Indonesia.

They also allegedly raised tens of thousands of dollars for Osama bin Laden's global network and established a terrorist support cell which, according to prosecutors, played a preparatory role in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

A judicial indictment links Yarkas and seven other suspects jailed last week to suicide hijacker Mohammed Atta, believed to have flown the American Airlines jet that crashed into the World Trade Center, and to senior figures in bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

More telling, is the detailed glimpse into al-Qaida's operational methods that the 25-page indictment offers, including how Yarkas, named as a bin Laden deputy, radicalized and recrfuited young Muslims in a low-income, immigrant neighborhood of Madrid.

Over the last five years, Yarkas allegedly traveled 20 times to Britain and visited Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Indonesia, Malaysia and Jordan as part of his recruitment drive. He also directed group members to raise funds for al-Qaida through fraud and theft.

In Britain, he and his assistants met with Abu Qutadah, described as "the maximum leader at the European level of the mujahedeen," and handed over an unspecified amount of cash from the Madrid group.

Qutadah, whose name has repeatedly surfaced in European investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, is also wanted by Jordanian authorities, who consider him a senior associate of bin Laden also involved in recruitment.

On Wednesday, Qutadah denied having met Yarkas, bin Laden or any of the Sept. 11 hijackers and claimed he was a religious scholar who gave advice on innocuous matters such as marriage.

"I am just a cleric for Islam," he said, speaking through an interpreter at his home in west London. "People talk to me from all over the world. My phone number is (distributed) worldwide. People call me all the time about Islamic matters."

According to the indictment, Saleh's initial task in Madrid was to indoctrinate young worshippers by obtaining propaganda material from fundamentalist groups in Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories "and distributing them at the Abu Bakr mosque."

He then formed a group called "Allah's Warriors," which vied for control of the mosque.

A year later, Saleh - also known in the indictment as Sheik Salah - went to Peshawar, Pakistan, to act as a point man for al-Qaida's worldwide recruitment efforts and left the Spanish group in the hands of Yarkas, who is also know as Abu Dahdah.

The indictment described how Abu Dahdah then sent "recruits to his contact in Peshawar, that is Sheik Salah, to be sent to training camps controlled by Osama bin Laden," and to other camps in Bosnia and Indonesia.

Saleh is believed to have gone from Pakistan to Afghanistan and according to the indictment, his last known whereabouts was an al-Qaida camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Since Sept. 11, some of the biggest break-throughs in the overseas investigation have come from Spain where authorities have exposed at least two alleged al-Qaida cells and linked both to the hijackers and other suspects in European custody.

The country, which faces North Africa to the south, is home to half a million Muslims.

Jadicha Candela, a Spanish convert to Islam and a Socialist party activist, said there was no evidence to support charges that any suspects in custody were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or in al-Qaida.

But she said the Spanish government needed to be more supportive of liberal Muslim organizations and education programs rather than turning the reins over to Saudi- funded conservative establishments where radical preachers often hold sway.

"They should deal with us and not with a group of people who have a mistaken understanding of Islam," she said.

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