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Police let bombers go on traffic stop

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Police 'let Madrid bomb suspects go'
By Isambard Wilkinson in Madrid
(Filed: 29/03/2004)

Spanish police were agonisingly close to foiling the Madrid train bombings, it was disclosed yesterday.

A car carrying the explosives used in the March 11 massacre was stopped by police but its Arab driver was fined only for a minor traffic offence, it was reported.

The boot of the Volkswagen was packed with 220 lb of industrial dynamite being transported to Madrid after it had been stolen from a coal mine at Aviles in northern Spain during the last week of February, the El Pais newspaper said.

The car, which had been stolen, was stopped by two Civil Guard patrolmen near Benavente, in the province of Leon, north of Madrid.

But their suspicions were not aroused when they checked the car's registration as the owner had not yet reported it missing. They failed to recognise that the driver was not the registered owner.

The driver was fined for a minor infringement and allowed to drive on. Three of the four bombing suspects are thought to have been in the car.

The car has now been found and traces of the dynamite used to bomb four packed commuter trains during the morning rush hour, killing 190 people and injuring more than 1,500 were found by forensic scientists in the boot.

The explosives were packed into haversacks and hold-alls at a house in the countryside 20 miles from Madrid the day before the bombing.

Police, who found the terrorists' safe house by tracing calls they had made on mobile phones, were yesterday still searching the building near the small, picturesque town of Chinchon. Officers claim that they found the fingerprints of two of the 12 people - nine Moroccans, two Indians and a Spaniard - facing provisional murder and terrorism-related charges following the attacks.

The fingerprints allegedly were those of Jalam Zougam, the owner of a mobile phone shop. and Abderrahim Zbakh, a chemistry graduate.

Zougam is said by investigators to have been one of the ringleaders of the Moroccan terrorist cell blamed for the attack and Zbakh, dubbed "Chemical Ali" by investigators, is believed to have made the luggage bombs.

Police found detonators and explosives similar to those used in the attacks at the house, Spanish newspapers quoted sources close to the investigation as saying.

A total of 20 suspects have been arrested and six are due in court today.

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