Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Suspected Madrid bombers made phone call to UK

AL-QAEDA LINKS Police say the seven men who blew themselves up in a Spanish apartment building are believed to have first phoned their `spiritual leader' in the UK

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Fresh links between last month's Madrid bomb attacks and the UK emerged on Sunday after it was reported that terror suspects telephoned the UK shortly before blowing themselves up 11 days ago.

At least one call to the UK was made while seven people were surrounded by police in an apartment building in the Madrid dormitory town of Leganes, according to police sources quoted by El Pais newspaper on Sunday.

No details were given of the conversation, which would have taken place during the two hours between the start of the siege and its dramatic end.

The identity of the person who received the call is also not known, with police sources speculating it might have been a "spiritual leader."

"This reinforces suspicions that the terrorists who have been active in Spain receive support from Britain," El Pais said.

The newspaper said investigators believed the recipient of the phone call was a radical preacher who had fallen out with moderate Muslim leaders. They said information on him was, at best, sketchy.

Previous reports in Spanish newspapers have suggested that several members of the group phoned relatives to say goodbye before they blew themselves up when police started to attack the apartment.

The call to the UK, therefore, could also have been to say farewell to family.

The commissioner of the London-based Metropolitan police, Sir John Stevens, has suggested there might be links between al-Qaeda supporters in the UK and the Madrid attacks, and Scotland Yard has sent detectives to Madrid to liaise with the investigating officers.

Last month detectives raided four homes in the East End of London and one in the north-west of the capital based on information received from the Spanish authorities. There were no arrests.

Spanish forensic scientists have, so far, identified four of the corpses found among the wreckage of the Leganes apartment -- some of which carried suicide bomb belts.

Three of those men appear in a video, made a week before their deaths, that survived the bomb blast, according to El Pais.

On the tape they threatened further attacks in Spain if troops were not pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Spanish interior minister, Angel Acebes, has said that British police are helping with the investigation.

Abu Qatada, a Jordanian cleric being held without charge in the UK, has been linked to violence in Spain -- but could not have been the recipient of the call from Leganes.

An investigating magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, named Qatada as "a member of Osama bin Laden's infrastructure" in a case he has brought against more than a dozen people accused of, among other things, involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks in the US.

His indictment also charged two UK-based Islamists, who use the names Shakur and Abu Abdulrahman, with involvement in Sept. 11.

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