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Madrid plot funded by drugs

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Apr. 14, 2004. 02:59 PM

Drugs funded Madrid plot: Spain
Terrorists traded narcotics for explosives used in March 11 attack, authorities say

MADRID, Spain (AP) - Terrorists who carried out the Madrid bombings were an autonomous cell that financed the plot by selling hashish and the designer drug ecstasy, officials said today.
The co-ordinator is still believed to have been a Tunisian real estate agent who blew himself up along with six other suspects on April 3 as police moved in to arrest them, Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a news conference.

But officials are examining the possibility that someone with a deeper grounding in radical Islam and perhaps terrorist training in Afghanistan or elsewhere was the overall leader of the March 11 attacks, Acebes said.

His remarks came as reports emerged that the cell might have been planning to target Jewish sites in Madrid.

Police searching the apartment where the Tunisian, Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, 35, and the other suspects killed themselves found a document that mentioned a Jewish cemetery and cultural centre called La Masada in Hoyo de Manzanares, a mountain town 30 kilometres northwest of Madrid, the town's mayor said.

However, the Interior Ministry and officials at the National Court denied evidence had been found that would indicate that any Jewish site might have been a target.

Acebes said the cell that staged the March 11 attacks "was local and autonomous, but its leaders have connections with other fundamentalist groups."

Investigators are pursuing leads in Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Tunisia and Morocco, the minister said.

The bombing cell apparently obtained the dynamite used in the attacks on trains in Madrid from petty criminals in a coal-mining region of northern Spain who accepted drugs as payment, Acebes said.

The bombers also used proceeds from drug sales to rent an apartment, buy a car and purchase cell phones used as detonators in the 10 backpack bombs that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 others in four commuter trains, Acebes said.

He reiterated that the core of the cell had been neutralized through a wave of arrests and the deaths of the suspects who committed suicide. But he refused to rule out future attacks by cell members who remain at large.

"Further actions cannot be ruled out, given the fanaticism of these individuals," Acebes said.

Police are investigating whether the three bodies that remain to be identified in the suicide blast might include someone who oversaw the Tunisian's activities, Acebes said.

Eighteen people have been charged in the attacks - six with mass murder and the rest with belonging to or collaborating with a terrorist organization. Fourteen of the 18 are Moroccan.

Six other suspects arrested over the past week have yet to go before a judge.

A fugitive Bosnian suspect named by the Interior Ministry - Sanel Sjekirica, 23 - said today in Sweden he would turn himself in to the Spanish authorities this weekend.

Sjekirica denied he had anything to do with the attacks, but said he had once shared an apartment with Fakhet.

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