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Moraccan arrested in madrid has suspected alqaida ties { March 14 2004 }

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Sunday, March 14, 2004 Last updated 10:11 a.m. PT
Moroccan arrested in Madrid was watched


RABAT, Morocco -- One of three Moroccans arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombings was already being closely watched by authorities in his homeland, where he was suspected of ties to an al-Qaida-linked group, a Moroccan official said Sunday.

Jamal Zougam, 30, was one of thousands of Moroccans put under surveillance by authorities after May terrorist bombings in the coastal city of Casablanca, a high-level official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. There were no formal accusations against him.

The other two suspects, Mohamed Bekkali, 31, and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, had no police record at home, the official said. All three had been living in Spain for years.

Spanish authorities arrested the three Saturday, along with two Indians, in connection with Thursday bombings in Madrid, which killed 200 people and injured 1,500.

All were taken into custody in connection with a cell phone and prepaid card in an explosives-filled gym bag found on one of the four trains bombed, Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has said. Acebes also said one of the Moroccans may be linked to extremist groups but did not say which one.

No particular terror group has been named in connection with Saturday's arrests in Spain. But a reported al-Qaida claim states it staged deadly rail bombings last week to punish the government for supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Spain's El Pais newspaper, citing the interior ministry, reported the Moroccans have links to Abu Dahdah, the jailed alleged leader of al-Qaida's Spanish cell. Authorities in Morocco said they could not comment on the report.

The three men are all from northern Morocco, a region that has a strong network of Islamic militants and where many people growing cannabis clandestinely and exporting it illegally to Europe.

Moroccan security experts arrived in Spain on Sunday to help in the investigation. Morocco's Interior Ministry said the experts were members of a team that has already spent nearly a year working with Spanish officials on the investigation into Casablanca's terror bombings.

Spanish citizens were among 33 people killed by Casablanca's suicide bombings against Jewish targets and a Spanish restaurant close to the Spanish consulate.

Those attacks were blamed on Salafia Jihadia, a secretive, radical Islamic group that Moroccan authorities believe is linked to al-Qaida. Twelve suicide bombers also died.

In a crackdown of Islamic radical groups that followed, Moroccan authorities took about 6,000 people in for questioning, and the courts have convicted about 1,000 of them.

In June, Spanish authorities arrested two Moroccan suspects accused of ties to the Casablanca attacks.

Abdelaziz Benyaich, who has dual French-Moroccan nationality, is being held in Spain for a suspected role in preparing the May 16 attacks, said a Moroccan Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He was arrested in the southern Spanish town of Algeciras.

Another suspect, Hicham Temsemani, was arrested in a train heading from Paris to Madrid and is suspected of helping finance the Casablanca attacks, the official said. He was extradited to Morocco on Friday, the official said.

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