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Suspected Madrid bombing ringleader killed
Updated: 2004-04-05 08:54

The suicide apartment house blast that killed the alleged ringleader of last month's Madrid train bombings and four other terror suspects left the core of the terror group either dead or in jail, Spain's interior minister said on Sunday.

Explosives discovered in the building where the five killed themselves to avoid capture Saturday night indicated they were plotting more violence and were linked to the failed bombing of a high-speed rail line Friday.

Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet was the suspected ringleader of the March 11 attacks in Madrid, according to the Spanish government. [cnn.com] 
Two or three suspects may have escaped before blast, which also killed a special forces officer and wounded 15 other policeman, Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a news conference.

Preliminary forensic tests on human remains in and around the apartment showed that five suspects had died in the blast, one more than previously reported, an Interior Ministry official said Sunday.

Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a 35-year-old Tunisian accused of spearheading the March 11 attacks that killed 191 people, was among those who died in the explosion in Leganes south of Madrid, Acebes said.

"The core of the group that carried out the attacks is either arrested or dead in yesterday's collective suicide, including the head of the operative commando unit," Acebes said.

Fifteen suspects are already in custody in the Madrid attacks. Six have been charged with mass murder and nine with collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist organization. Eleven of the 15 charged are Moroccan.

The 22 pounds of dynamite and 200 detonators found in the apartment are the same as that used in the March 11 attacks and in the bomb that was discovered Friday before it could explode along the high-speed rail line between Madrid and Seville, Acebes said.

"They were going to keep on attacking because some of the explosives were prepared, packed and connected to detonators," he said.

The type of explosives and detonators found are widely available in Spain, and the match was not certain proof of a connection.

The judge overseeing the probe of the attacks issued international warrants for Fakhet and five others last week. Fakhet's was described as "leader and coordinator" of the suspects in the March 11 bombings. It said he had been an active campaigner for jihad, or holy war, among the suspects as early as mid-2003. He had shown signs of preparing a violent act in the Madrid area "as a demonstration of said jihad," the warrant said.

Another man on the warrant list, Abdennabi Kounjaa, a Moroccan, also was identified as among the four who died Saturday night. A third man ! Asri Rifaat Anouar ! was not on the list. Another suspect's body was too severely mutilated to identify immediately, Acebes said.

The Interior Ministry official said that police evidence indicated that Jamal Ahmidan ! who was also on the warrant list ! was among the dead, but forensic tests were pending.

Acebes said the explosion hurled pieces of a corpse into a swimming pool in a courtyard of the apartment.

Residents saw police working under floodlights scoop pieces out of the pool before dawn Sunday. "I think they found a lot of remains," said Carmina Sanchez, 43, who lives in the building next door.

Acebes declined to say how the bodies were identified. Another ministry official said it was done visually or with fingerprints.

Later, Spanish news agencies said coroners examining the remains in and around the apartment thought five suspected terrorist might have died in the blast. The Interior Ministry could not confirm that.

The investigation into the Madrid attacks has focused on the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which has links to al-Qaeda and is related to a group suspected in last year's Casablanca bombings, which killed 45 people including 12 suicide bombers.

Acebes said investigators in the Madrid bombing will now concentrate on any connections the commuter railway bombers may have had abroad or with other terrorist groups.

Spain has been a major U.S. ally in Iraq and has been warned by al-Qaeda that it would be the target of terrorism for its support. After the Madrid bombing, a videotape was discovered that showed a purported al-Qaeda operative saying the attack was punishment for Spain's support of the U.S.-led coalition.

Spain has 1,300 troops in Iraq, and the new government elected shortly after the bombing has said it will make good on pre-election promises and withdraw the soldiers unless peacekeeping responsibilities are handed over to the United Nations.

On Sunday afternoon, police searching for explosives were examining a car parked near the building where the four suspects blew themselves up. It belonged to one of the dead bombers, an Interior Ministry official said.

Acebes would not say how the suspects were tracked down. The newspaper El Pais said police traced them through a cell phone call made from the apartment.

The group set off the deadly explosion after a two-hour standoff with police who were preparing to storm the apartment as part of an escalating manhunt for those responsible for the March 11 bombings.

The special forces officer who died was identified Sunday as Javier Torrontera, 41. He was married and had two children.

The Interior Ministry announced Sunday the names of three new suspects being sought by police ! Amer el Aziz, 36, Sanel Sjekirica, 23, and Rabei Osman Ahmed, 33. No nationalities were given. They are not on the judge's warrant list.

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