Al Qaeda's New Front
Directed by Neil Docherty
Written by Neil
Docherty and Lowell Bergman
GEORGE W. BUSH: We have the terrorists on the run.
ANNOUNCER: Since 9/11, there have been no
terrorist attacks in the United States.
But in Madrid, Berlin and London, there is a growing threat.
LONDON STREET CORNER: We must prepare to die now!
Al Qaeda today is larger than anyone believed them to be.
Europe has become a battlefield.
ANNOUNCER: As President Bush prepares to travel to
Europe, FRONTLINE follows the trail of terrorism across the continent, where
despite hundreds of arrests, authorities are confronting a new and dangerous
DAVID VENESS, Metropolitan Police, London: What is
different about this is the unequivocal intention to cause mass murder.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a new front in the war against
NARRATOR: At 7:30 on a weekday morning, the
commuters emerge by the thousands.
It is the beginning of a day like any other, Atocha station in the heart
of Madrid. On a morning like this
in March, four trains converging on Atocha station would arrive within minutes
of each other. On one of them, a
British-born teacher who has lived in Spain for decades, Denise Gilroy.
GILROY, Madrid Bombing Survivor: That day, I remember, it was a
Thursday, and I was feeling a bit tired, so I was sitting, thinking. And I remember sitting and watching the
girl beside me, and she's fiddling about with her radio cassette. And the other girl in the corner, she
was sitting, falling asleep.
NARRATOR: At 7:36, Atocha station, the morning
rush was nearing its peak. The
first of the four approaching trains arrived just before 7:37. A closed-circuit TV camera would record
what has come to be known in Spain as 3/11, March 11th, 2004.
of the bombs exploded near Denise Gilroy.
GILROY: I think for a
few minutes, I may not have been conscious what actually was going on around
me. I mean, I looked at the
girl that was sitting, you know, in front of me. She'd been listening to her Walkman. I realized that she'd been very, very
badly injured. And then I turned
over, and I saw a man crawling along the aisle, and all I could see around me
NARRATOR: It might have been worse. The plan was for 13 bombs to explode
when the trains were inside the station, which would have killed thousands. As Spain mourned 191 dead and over
1,400 injured, it was clear a new front had been opened in the war on terror.
BERGMAN, FRONTLINE Correspondent:
What does the Madrid bombing tell us about al Qaeda today and how it may
have changed since September 11?
POWELL, Security Analyst, Madrid: I
think, first of all, it tells us that it's a much more formidable enemy than we
had initially realized and that they see themselves as being involved in a
NARRATOR: Madrid-based security analyst Charles
Powell's institute quickly drew the government's attention to a chilling
document on the Internet. Months
earlier, researchers had discovered this al Qaeda strategy paper entitled
"Iraqi Jihad: Hopes and Risks."
POWELL: And in particular, it had five pages on
Spain, which are really very interesting and quite surprising because of the
level of sophistication involved.
The author basically identified Spain as the weakest link in the chain
in the "coalition of the willing" that the Bush administration had constructed.
BERGMAN: So this was, in a sense, a political
scientist of the jihad laying out a roadmap for why you should do something.
POWELL: Yes. I think it's uncanny and quite alarming.
NARRATOR: If it was a political strategy, it paid
off. Spain was just days from
elections, and in the emotional aftermath of the tragedy, the conservative
government that had supported the Iraq invasion was pushed out of power.
Spanish authorities began to round up suspects, a portrait emerged of the cell:
Moroccans, not particularly religious, from the country's large North African
DE ARISTEGUI, Member of Parliament, Spain:
They were people that were— had been established in Spain for some
years— middle-low-class people that had small businesses, some of them, people
that had not been known in the past for their radical tendencies, but in the
past, in the recent past, had changed dramatically and started seeing people of
the radical spheres and circles in Spain and elsewhere.
NARRATOR: Amongst the evidence seized,
authorities found records of contacts with other radical groups across Europe,
loose connections in a web of associations.
POWELL: I would see this as a sort of
franchise, a group which acts locally but is in contact with elements abroad
who probably didn't determine the precise timing of the attacks, but who did
give the overall project some sort of meaning and significance.
NARRATOR: Immediately after the Madrid bombing,
Europeans tightened security, fearing another attack. Jean-Louis Bruguiere is one of Europe's most experienced
counterterrorism experts, an investigating judge who has been handling
terrorist cases for over 20 years.
BRUGUIERE, Chief Anti-Terror Judge, France:
I think that the terrorist threat, just let me say, is today more
globalized, more scattered, and more powerful and efficient than it was in the—
before September 11 and just after September 11. We have to face a worldwide threat.
BERGMAN: It's more powerful, the threat?
BRUGUIERE: Quite more powerful because more
scattered. It looks like a
web. You don't have any direct
connections. We have one cell with
another cell, and we don't know why these individual have direct meeting or why
in connection with the others.
BERGMAN: There's no one giving orders?
BRUGUIERE: It is a mutating system.
BRUGUIERE: Yes. Absolutely.
Looks like a virus, you know?
NARRATOR: Acting on information from the Madrid
arrests, French police raided a suburb of Paris, uncovering a cell that had
never been on their radar before.
XAVIER RAUFER, University of Paris:
You've got sleeping cells all over already. That one we discovered because the— after the bomb exploded
in Madrid, they did a very thorough inquiry and discovered a lot of things and
a lot of individuals, and we could follow them by the mobile phones and
electronic devices to the suburbs of Paris because of the information that
Spanish intelligence gave us. But
still, you have already these type of cells in Europe.
NARRATOR: In London, a laboratory was discovered
with traces of the poison ricin, raising fears of a subway attack. Sir David Veness of Scotland Yard.
DAVID VENESS, Metropolitan Police, London:
This country has seen terrorism since the end of the 1960s, both
domestic extremism and international terrorism here on the streets of
London. What we've not seen, what
is different about this form of terrorism, is the unequivocal intention to
cause mass murder by means of terrorism that are delivered without warning in
any form to the public.
NARRATOR: That's what happened in Istanbul just
three months before Madrid. In
this cosmopolitan city in a country with ambitions to be part of the European
Community, two synagogues, a British-based bank and the British consulate were
bombed, killing 61 people.
DAVID VENESS: Istanbul, in my view, was a very clear
wake-up call. Just bring that
forward to March and look at Madrid because here was the wake-up call echoed,
and again, a graphic depiction which everybody could recognize that those
scenes of carnage at railway stations with suburban commuter trains as
something that we could all identify with in any Western city.
NARRATOR: Back in Madrid, a month after the
bombing, police had cornered seven more of the bomb conspirators on the
outskirts of the city. A
three-hour stand-off gave a chilling insight into the character of the
terrorists, who had been thought to be not particularly religious. Barricaded in a second-floor apartment,
they dressed in white robes of martyrdom, phoned friends, drank water from
Mecca, chanted Quranic verses, then blew themselves up.
deadly combination of religious fanaticism and careful planning by the cell in
Madrid raised hard questions about the worldwide war on terror. Many Europeans, already wary of the
Iraq war, were worried that the United States, by pursuing a mainly military
campaign against al Qaeda, had underestimated the evolving nature of the
GEORGE W. BUSH: We're tracking al Qaeda around the
world, and nearly two thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or
XAVIER RAUFER, University of Paris: We
are astonished when we see the— when we hear, when we read what the present
American administration describes as al Qaeda. They describe this as some kind of an Irish Republican Army,
except that instead of being Catholics, they are Muslims. This is 1980s terrorism. It's the Red Army Faction. It's the IRA. It's even Abu Nidal group in the Middle East. It has nothing to do with what
terrorism is today.
BERGMAN: President Bush would disagree with you.
XAVIER RAUFER: President Bush would disagree with what
I am saying, but I also— we also, in the studies of terrorism and organized
crime domain in France, totally disagree with him, so it's no surprise. How can you— it's like— it's totally
amorphous. It's like an amoeba,
you know? New jihadis are entering
the fray each day.
Read the extended interview]
NARRATOR: In Western Europe, it's estimated there
are now 18 million Muslims. Here
in Paris, they're praying in the street because there's not enough room in the
mosques. Most Muslims in Europe
are devout, conservative and opposed to the fanaticism of the militant
Islamists, but both their slow integration into European society and their
marginalization has left an opening for radical jihadists.
KEPEL, Author, The War for Muslim Minds: Within Europe, we also have Islamists
who are much opposed to the fact that people from Muslim descent become
assimilated into European culture.
They're against European democracy, and they would rather build citadels
of jihad within Europe.
NARRATOR: The Muslim community in France,
approaching five million, is the largest in Europe, a community largely
isolated from the French mainstream, living in segregated neighborhoods like
Mantes la Jolie on the outskirts of Paris.
MAMOUN FANDY, Senior Fellow, Baker Institute:
There is no program of assimilation within these countries to integrate
these people and make them into citizens.
They always stayed on the margin of things. These are people who are physically in the West, but
mentally they did not leave the homeland.
They did not leave the ideas that they subscribe to, that indeed, they
exist in the land of the infidels.
NARRATOR: An increasing acceptance of
ultra-conservative values and the influence of religious zealots has many of
the locals worried. It frightens political
moderates like Mamoun Abdelali. He
is a local religious leader who sees the extremist agitators at work all around
him, recruiting young people.
ABDELALI, Imam, Mantes la Jolie, France: [through
This is an ideal breeding ground— unemployment, ignorance, academic failures,
professional failures, a feeling of rejection by French society because there
is no work or housing, and for the most part, a very low education level, and
thus very little knowledge of Islam.
And added to that is an enormous level of frustration and a huge
NARRATOR: They live in difficult conditions,
consigned to vast concrete enclaves on the outskirts of Paris and other
cities. Crime and unemployment are
rising, and young people can be easy prey for seasoned radicals.
KEPEL: We now have the second or third
generation of children, of grandchildren of immigrants, and the second
generation has experienced a rather difficult life because many of the parents
were on the dole. They were
unemployed. And then children sort
of felt that they were rejected, that they didn't know where they
belonged. Were they still
Algerians, for instance? Were they
French already? And they felt that
it was xenophobia or racism, what have you. So that created some sort of a questioning, a sort of
NARRATOR: It's into this vacuum that the
jihadists have come, offering a message of meaning and identity.
ABDELALI: [through interpreter] It gives them
value. "Oh, I am someone who is
now more important. I thought I
was just a little punk, but now I am someone who can decide the future of my
society." And then it goes
further. Violent acts will now be
justified by arguing a tooth for a tooth.
"In Bosnia, 200,000 Muslims were massacred, so now I have the right to
massacre 200,000 Christians in France if I want to. That is the law of retribution, and so it is fair."
NARRATOR: This militant message of jihad is
contained in an austere branch of Islam, a minority sect know as Salafism.
XAVIER RAUFER, Anti-Terrorism Expert, Univ. of Paris: Salafism started in what is known now
as Saudi Arabia, and you had a fundamentalist preacher named Abdel Wahhab, and
he started teaching in mosques that the faith, the Muslim faith, should revert to
its origins, be absolutely pure, nothing added. Islam is something and Salafia is something else. Also, one should remember that all the
Salafists arm the jihadi.
NARRATOR: Prince Turki al Faisal is the former
head of Saudi intelligence and now the ambassador to London.
TURKI AL FAISAL, Saudi Ambassador to Great Britain: There is a vast difference between a
jihadi Salafi and a Salafi.
BERGMAN: So you are Salafi.
TURKI AL FAISAL: I am a Salafi, and proud to be a
Salafi, and would consider many— most good Muslims who follow the teachings of
the four principal imams of Sunni Islam are Salafis, as well.
BERGMAN: The growth of the Salafi version of
Islam and its propagation that many people throughout Europe have told us
provides the base, the ideological base, for this current violent terrorism
that we see breaking out around the world.
TURKI AL FAISAL: Oh, I beg to disagree with that because
I think there is, first of all, a miscomprehension and also a misinterpretation. Within the last 30 years, I would say,
that offshoots of the Salafi interpretation of Islam began to take place, not
just within Saudi Arabia, but within the Muslim world in general and within
Muslim communities in non-Muslim countries, particularly in Europe.
hence, we have in Europe, let's say in London, the development of such
offshoots that propagated an extremization of the Salafi tradition into
violence. A Salafi jihadist
believes that the jihad is Fardh Ein, which is obligatory. You and I sitting here, in their interpretation, I should
take out a sword, put it on your neck and say, "Do you accept Islam or
not?" And if you don't, I cut off
your head. That's what a jihadist
More on Salafism]
NARRATOR: Finsbury Park is just a 20-minute bus
ride north from the center of London.
The mosque here, built with money from the Saudi royal family, has
become an inspirational meeting place for jihadists. Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," prayed here, as
did Zacarias Moussaoui, the man the U.S. says was the 20th hijacker. Today, the leading figure in the mosque
is this man, Abu Abdullah. A
Londoner, he says he left behind a life of keeping company with criminals
before he converted to Islam 12 years ago. Today, he swears allegiance to a militant brand of Islam.
ABDULLAH: People see us as extremists because we
don't compromise the religion of Allah [Arabic] We accept it with every
word and every utterance of our beloved Prophet Mohammed, Sallallahu Alaihi
that no Muslim can turn away from one aya of the Quran, one verse of the
Quran. If we don't accept this, we
actually become disbelievers.
NARRATOR: This man, Abu Hamza, a wounded veteran
of Afghan mujahideen war against the Russians, was Abu Abdullah's mentor at the
There's no statement to be made vis-a-vis any allegations by the
FBI! They're all lies!
OFFICER: Hey, hey, hey! Guys, guys! Hey, guys, come on!
You just smacked me in the back of the head with that camera!
NARRATOR: The U.S. government wants to extradite
him on terrorist charges. Hamza
openly approved of the 9/11 attack.
HAMZA: Everybody was happy when the planes hit
the World Trade Center. Anybody
tell you he was not happy, they are hypocrites. From the Muslim nation, I'm telling you, everybody.
HAMZA: Because this is what you teach your
people in cowboy films. When you
see the aggressors being doing bad things, and then the hero comes and give him
a couple of punches in his face, everybody cheers.
NARRATOR: Hamza's radical views led British
authorities to close the mosque for more than a year. Hamza continued his preaching until recently, when British
police took him off the streets.
He is now in jail, awaiting trial on terrorist charges.
his views are echoed by other radical imams in Europe, preaching a message that
draws its inspiration from bin Laden.
SCHEUER, Former Chief, CIA Bin Laden Desk, Author, Imperial Hubris: Bin Laden has become, for better or
worse, the dominant Islamic leader in the world, the only, really, heroic
figure in the Islamic world at the moment. Right now, his potential for bin Ladenism, his potential for
growth, is virtually unlimited because he's focused on American policies and on
Western policies, to some extent, that Muslims believe are an attack on their
faith and on their God.
NARRATOR: Michael Scheuer was in charge of the
CIA's bin Laden unit. He left the
agency after writing, as Anonymous, two books critical of the U.S. tactics in
the war on terror.
SCHEUER: No one's going to listen to our
diplomacy. No one will listen to
our propaganda. We are just not
heard in the Islamic world. It's
not a matter of them not knowing what we're up to. The problem we have is they think they know what we're up
to, and that's supporting tyrannies, we're after their oil, we're supporting
the Israelis over the Palestinians at all times, we're supporting governments
that oppress Muslims elsewhere, such as the Chinese, the Indians and the
Russians. It's a matter of policy.
BERGMAN: And Europe becomes important because
that's a place where Muslims can go or live and talk about these things,
organize about these things, and the traditions of Western Europe allow them to
SCHEUER: Yes. Western European traditions are much like ours, in terms of
freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, and it's a very convenient place for
them to be.
NARRATOR: It's the freedom to call for jihad and
to try to persuade moderate Muslims to join them in the fight.
LONDON STREET CORNER: We must prepare to die now, to take
vengeance upon the Zionist goons!
It's our right! Allah has
given us the right to defend ourselves!
ABDULLAH: [speaks in Arabic] Allah mentioned jihad
in the Quran 26 times [Arabic
Allah mentioned qita fi sabil-Allah 89 times.
"Qita fi sabil-Allah" is fighting by a physical fighting.
NARRATOR: This is a jihadi recruiting video. It shows an action in Chechnya, where
Islamic fighters have been waging a long and bloody battle against the
Russians. It's a call to arms
against the non-Muslim world.
ABDULLAH: They are waging war on Islam because
they cannot have full global domination until they completely eradicate Islam
because Islam is the only religion that accepts and recognizes Allah [Arabic
phrase] with no partners. So therefore, a Muslim cannot
compromise his religion, no matter what the Western governments bring.
NARRATOR: This jihadi video came to the attention
of the police, identifying this young man with the patch over his eye,
Salaheddin Benyaich. He returned
to his home in Morocco but is now in jail serving 18 years for terrorism. His brother, Abdelaziz, is awaiting
extradition from Spain on similar charges. The third brother, Abdullah, died in Tora Bora, allegedly
fighting with bin Laden.
lies just across the Straits of Gibraltar. Arriving in Tangiers is to pass back in history into a
Discontent hangs in the air of this and other North African
countries. The king's gambit on
this holiday is to promise slightly more freedom, but prosperity remains
elusive. And the government has
been cracking down hard on a growing militant movement.
Casablanca, in May of 2003, 12 suicide bombers targeted this Spanish cafe and a
Jewish community center, among others.
According to police, the planning and recruitment involved the Benyaich
come from a prosperous middle class family in Tangiers. We met two of the remaining siblings,
Jamal and Niama.
BERGMAN: Three of your brothers — one has died,
two are in jail. And when we asked
people about the jihad and the events of the last few years, they— your family
name is mentioned over and over again.
How do you explain this?
BENYAICH: If you were an Arab, if you were a
Muslim, maybe you become like this.
People are affected by news, by what they watch and what they see. Why life? Why they? Why
they? That's what affect the
people. War in Iraq, war in
Afghanistan, no chemical weapons, no relation between Qaeda, but we are still
here. We still want to kill more
of you. We finish with you, there
is Iran, there is Syria, there is perhaps Hezbollah, perhaps the— what's— you
want to take all the world?
NARRATOR: Angry and confused, they say their
brothers were not involved in the bombing, that they were not terrorists.
BENYAICH: [through interpreter] They lived in the West
and have liberal beliefs and opinions, I mean modern and civilized
opinions. I never detected any
sign of militancy. It's true. Now he is in jail. Why would I lie to you?
NARRATOR: Niama believes her brothers picked up
their radical ideas not from the world around them but outside Morocco.
BENYAICH: [through interpreter] We never had extremist
ideas or ideas that didn't fit with our upbringing. That's the environment my brothers grew up in. Then they went to Europe, and any ideas
they adopted, they adopted while they were in Europe.
NARRATOR: For the immigrants from Morocco and
North Africa, it's not just Spain across the narrow straits but a gateway to
all of Europe. Whether traveling
legally or illegally, they've been flooding into the continent, making Muslims
the fastest-growing population in Europe.
And once inside the European Union, they can move between the countries
with relative ease.
how terrorist cells move around Europe and operate within this population that
concerns analysts like Marc Sageman.
A former CIA operative who worked with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan,
he's now a forensic psychiatrist mapping the workings of terrorist cells like
those in Spain, trying to understand how they relate to each other, their
common ties and loose connections back to al Qaeda, and what distinguishes
their members' profiles.
SAGEMAN, Author, Understanding Terror Networks: One of the surprising finding in my
sample was that about 70 percent decide to join the jihad while they were
abroad. And it turns out that they
were abroad because they were the elite of their country and they were sent
abroad, I thought, to find a good job, or more frequently, to study
abroad. And when they were abroad,
they became very homesick, so they drifted toward mosques, not for religious
reason, because at the time, most of those people are not very religious. They were fairly secular. And as a matter of fact, they were
mostly people in engineering school, law school, medical school. And what those mosques have in common
is that they preach this creation of this Salafi utopia.
NARRATOR: The Salafist utopia is not just a
return to the days of the Prophet, but a yearning for the caliphate, the world
that Islam once conquered as it spread out from Arabia, west, north, south and
east, from the Malay archipelago, beyond the Caucasus, across North Africa and
into Andalusia in Spain.
Europe was in the Dark Ages, Muslims brought literature, advanced mathematics,
the scientific method, and by the 14th century, had built the Alhambra in
SAGEMAN: In the 15th, 16th century, Islam was
really the predominant religion.
And if you had to bet who would be the predominant force in the world in
the 20th century or 21st century, you would have been a fool not to bet on
Islam. And then in the next 400
years, there is gradual decline to the point in the 19th century, most of the
Islamic Muslim land were colonized by the West. And so the question, What happened?
religious sense is we have lost our way.
It's a revivalist answer.
And if we recapture the word of God, God will be pleased.
NARRATOR: The power of this religious message
became clear to police in Milan, Italy, in the summer of 2004. Acting on a tip from Spanish police,
they had mounted a surveillance operation, putting bugs in every room of an
apartment on Via Cadore. They
listened as two men played religious tapes. They were overhearing the recruitment of a suicide bomber to
go to Iraq. These are official
transcripts of their conversations.
RABEI: These are very special tapes. They indicate the way of the
martyr. They enter your body, but
you must listen to them constantly.
I listen to them all the time.
NARRATOR: The recruiter was a 32-year-old
Egyptian named Ahmed Rabei. His
recruit was a 21-year-old named Yahia Payumi.
RABEI: This tape has an indescribable
voice. It enters your veins.
NARRATOR: On May 28, police overheard the two men
download a jihadi video from Iraq.
A transcript reports that Rabei became very excited as they watched
26-year-old American hostage Nicholas Berg kneel before his captors.
RABEI: Watch closely. This is the policy of the sword. Slaughter him! Cut his head off! God is great!
PAYUMI: Isn't that a sin?
RABEI: It's never a sin! It's never a sin for the cause. Everyone must end up like this.
More of the transcripts]
NARRATOR: The chilling tapes came to the desk of
Armando Spataro, a senior prosecutor in Milan. He had never heard anything like this in all his years of
fighting the Mafia and other European terror groups in campaigns that date back
to the '80s.
SPATARO, Terrorist Prosecutor, Milan: [through
interpreter] On a human level, more than fear, I had
this feeling of incredulity. My
first reaction was, "How is it possible that even here, in a democracy, a
country that welcomes immigrants from all over, that there could be someone who
harbors so much hatred to consider taking his own life in order to kill
NARRATOR: Spataro realized he was listening to an
experienced operative, one who had connections with other cells throughout
SPATARO: [through interpreter] Rabei was some sort of
contact person, with links to cells all over Europe. We verified his presence in Spain, France, Germany, Italy,
besides contacts with Belgium and Holland.
NARRATOR: Ahmed Rabei's journey through Europe
began in September, 2000, in the Lebach refugee center in Germany. Ishac Badawi is a social worker at the
center. He remembers Rabei as a
mysterious character who spoke educated Arabic, who claimed to be a Palestinian
but had no passport or papers.
BADAWI, Lebach Refugee Center, Germany: [through
interpreter] He had been in prison for about a year,
and authorities did not know his country of origin. They could not hold him indefinitely because he had no
papers, and they didn't know where to send him. He claimed to be Palestinian. I went there to help determine his country of origin, as
suggested by his dialect.
NARRATOR: During his years here, Rabei became
known for his militant politics and a growing sense of piety.
BADAWI: [through interpreter] He grew his hair and
his beard. Then, as leader of
prayer, he took to wearing traditional robes and took to going around and
gathering people to pray.
NARRATOR: His proselytizing was sufficiently
extreme that he was attracting the attention of the security services.
man who now attracts the attention of German security is Reda Sayem. Because of his radical views, this
divorced father in Berlin has been accused of being a dangerous jihadist. He's been linked to international
terrorism, including the Bali bombing.
SAYEM: [through interpreter] We believe that the caliphate shall be
restored, and we believe that Rome shall be conquered. Islam was the dominant power in the
world for the longest time of any empire.
For more than a thousand years, Islam ruled the world, until the fall of
the caliphate. Communism lasted
only 70 years before it fell.
Capitalism will fall soon.
We offer the alternative, an Islamic program. But the West is not willing to try it. The West is afraid that they will have
to give up its sensuous lusts and greed for money.
BERGMAN: Do you admire bin Laden? What do you think of him?
SAYEM: [through interpreter] We consider that bin Laden is standing
on one of the fronts to defend Islam.
BERGMAN: When he says that it is all right to—
or to kill Jews and the crusaders, or when he justifies the deaths of Muslims,
do you agree with this?
SAYEM: [through interpreter] Usama bin Laden didn't say you have to
kill this or that person. The
Quran says this. It is my
understanding that what the Quran says is that Muslims are supposed to fight
those who go against God's will.
NARRATOR: In August, 2001, Ahmed Rabei didn't
collect his monthly food parcel.
Immediately after the terrorist attack on 9/11, security services came
looking for him. They were too
late. The man with no passport had
abandoned these quarters to travel for the next three years throughout
Europe. It's now believed that he
had taken on the manner and methods of the Takfir, violent Salafist extremists
who came out of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Takfirs are not bound by the usual religious
constraints. Rabei cut off his
beard. He could now blend into the
crowd. Takfirs, who have
significantly influenced al Qaeda, believe that any means justify the end, that
even other Muslims can be killed in the cause, that this society is heathen and
they are the force to destroy it.
BRUGUIERE, Chief Anti-Terror Judge, France:
We have a lot in Europe, many, many cells. Many groups belongs to Takfir or share the values of Takfir—
very, very, very radical. And all
the members are living look like undercover. They are no Islamic-looking, you know? They have no beards. They have just a tie. They drink alcoholic beverage. They can—
BERGMAN: They drink—
BRUGUIERE: If necessary, yes, have a sandwich with
pork inside is no problem. So the
visible signs, it's quite impossible to discover. But they have, you know, two caps, two lives.
NARRATOR: One of them showed up in Paris. He was encountered by Mamoun Abdelali,
who didn't pay much attention to a quiet man who was passing through and who
was, in fact, Ahmed Rabei.
ABDELALI, Imam, Mantes la Jolie, France: [through
I didn't have the time to have a long talk with him. He seemed to be a man of few words. These are people who are extremely
discreet, and to me, he was not the most dangerous figure I had ever met.
NARRATOR: For Abdelali, the greater danger seemed
all around him, in the charged political atmosphere of his neighborhood, where
the world is reported on Al Jazeera, a constant stream of bad news about the
Middle East, from Palestine to Iraq.
ABDELALI: [through interpreter] Of course, the conflict
in Iraq is one of many grievances, but it serves as a kind of orientation for
young Takfirs today, who decide to wage a jihad because they've read in Islamic
books that Muslims must wage jihad.
And many young people have gone to Iraq. They left France and went to Iraq to wage a jihad, to kill
Americans, many of them armaments experts.
BRUGUIERE: Iraq, obviously, is a big problem. And the big problem on terrorist
issues, for the threat, it's a factor of increasing and of worsening the
XAVIER RAUFER, Anti-Terrorism Expert, Univ. of Paris: It's a huge problem for us because you
don't have any ground continuity between Iraq and the United States. But if you drive a car today out of
Iraq and you drive it through Turkey, you can reach France without two or three
NARRATOR: For the jihadis, Iraq has become a
SAYEM: [through interpreter] Any observer can see
that this war in Iraq is, in fact, a farm, a school to train graduates in
terrorism and fighting and revive the spirit of jihad in the Muslim nation.
SCHEUER: The invasion of Iraq was a godsend to
Usama bin Laden, very literally, because it validated so much of what he has
said and told Muslims, that the Americans want Arab oil, that the Americans
will destroy any Muslim regime that appears to be powerful, the Americans will
destroy any country that appears to be a threat to the Israelis, and they're
willing to invade any Muslim country if it suits their interests. So the invasion of Iraq just validated
everything that he's said in the past decade about the United States.
so that's just not a problem for the Europeans, but also in the United States,
in Canada, in Australia, in the Far East.
NARRATOR: Across Europe, the long, hard work of
intelligence gathering, surveillance and investigation has been paying
off. It is estimated 34
substantial terrorist attacks have been planned but intercepted since 9/11, and
some planned on a scale of 9/11.
About 600 suspected terrorists have been arrested, packed off to jail or
held in indefinite detention. And
these are not all illegal foreigners, but European citizens with full legal
rights under the rule of law. Each
country has its own legal system, but they all have the problem of how to hold
them and how to make cases against them.
A chronology of the plots]
what's happening here, in the most famous terrorism case of all, in
Hamburg. This was where Mohammed
Atta's cell gathered. In an
apartment on this street, they planned the multiple attacks on New York and Washington
that would take nearly 3,000 lives on September 11th, 2001.
families of people who died in the 9/11 attacks have hired Berlin lawyer
Andreas Schultz to represent them.
He is worried that one of the alleged co-conspirators, a man who was
inside the circle of the Hamburg cell, may not be found guilty. Mounir el Motassadeq was arrested in
Germany. He was convicted once as
a co-conspirator, but it was overturned on appeal because two key defense
witnesses are being held by the United States. He is now being retried.
Binalshibh, who was arrested in Pakistan, has since been held in secret custody
by the Americans, as well as the alleged ringleader of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed. The Americans are not
giving any access to them, and even if they did, their testimony could be problematic.
SCHULTZ, Attorney for 9/11 Families, Berlin:
The biggest problem is if evidence is coming, can this evidence be used
in the German trials? The issue of
torture is above all the issue.
And if you produce evidence which cannot be introduced, that evidence
is— is nothing.
NARRATOR: So for now, at the end of the court
day, Motassadeq walks free. But FRONTLINE has learned from a
high-level U.S. official that the Justice Department is considering charges
which could lead to his extradition.
Schultz believes Motassadeq may get off on the major charge in Germany.
SCHULTZ: There will be no conviction on the
basis of supporting the killing plot, which means accessory for murder. There might be a conviction for being a
member in a terrorist organization, which is— it's a severe offense, but the
sentence is low. The estimation is
around three years, which is nothing.
NARRATOR: In spite of these disagreements with
the Europeans over how to prosecute the war on terror, the Bush administration
declined our request for an interview.
SCHEUER: Well, law enforcement is never going to
be the answer to this problem. We
can't possibly arrest and convict enough of these people to put them in jail
and think it's going to solve the problem. At all times, if you can do it, it's a worthwhile thing to
do, whether in the United States or Germany or Morocco. But it's an adjunct to the war against
Islamic militancy. It's not a—
it's not a primary tool at all.
NARRATOR: But Spain, like other European
countries, is caught in between. They've
been holding suspects for as long as they can while they build their
cases. They can legally hold them
for up to four years. Then they
must be brought to trial or released.
That could yet happen to Imad Yarkas, who is accused of providing logistical
and financial support to Mohammed Atta before the 9/11 attacks. He's been in jail for three years.
Balthazar Garzon blames the Americans because he needs testimony from Ramzi
Binalshibh and others who are being kept in Guantanamo.
BALTHAZAR GARZON, Spain: [through
These are people who are being held in Guantanamo and who have come up in
Spanish investigations. They are
people who are pertinent to our cases, and we should have access to them. But so far, that has not been possible.
NARRATOR: The U.S. detention center in Guantanamo
is only one of the places where the United States has been holding people. The administration is on a war footing,
more interested in preventing attacks than prosecuting terrorists. And for some years, clandestine
services have been capturing suspects and sending them to third countries in a
policy known as "rendition."
BERGMAN: FBI officials who I've spoken with have
said what happened after 9/11 was there was this great fear of a second-wave
attack. So we did things like
detain people, order the CIA to go out and do "renditions," if you will, as you
SCHEUER: Yeah, well, no one ordered the CIA to
do that. The CIA has been doing
that since the middle '90s simply because we— that was our assignment, to get
these people off the street. The
back end has never been discussed, has never been settled. How do we handle the people we
capture? The only answer we came
up with, and it was the agency that came up with it, and it was blessed by
lawyers, was to take these people to countries that wanted them for their
crimes of terrorism. So that's
where we are today.
BERGMAN: So the cases in Germany and Spain are
in some ways a portent of things to come.
SCHEUER: A portent of frictions between— between
legal systems, yes. And again, I
think there's a portent of things to come regarding the whole security
situation inside the European Community and the safety of the United
States. I think that's another issue.
BERGMAN: And the longer that goes on, it sounds
like that will also help bin Laden achieve what he wants, which is more
friction between the U.S. and—
SCHEUER: Yeah, friction between Europe and the
United States is something that certainly benefits Usama bin Laden, without
NARRATOR: In the spring of 2004, in Milan,
terrorism seemed far from the minds of ordinary Italians. But the surveillance operation in the
apartment on Via Cadore captured a stunning conversation. The man they knew nothing about, the
man with no passport, who had walked out of the German refugee center and
networked with terrorists throughout Europe, made this claim.
RABEI: There is something that I won't hide
from you. The Madrid attack was my
project. And those who died as
martyrs, those are my very dear friends.
SPATARO, Terrorist Prosecutor, Milan: [through
It was shocking to hear directly from Rabei the details of the preparation for
the Madrid attacks.
NARRATOR: Later, police would find this image on
his computer, a briefcase bomb triggered by a cell phone, similar to the bombs
that wreaked such havoc in Madrid.
On June 7th, they finally arrested him. Ahmed Rabei, now known as "Mohammed the Egyptian," has been
extradited to Spain to face charges on the Madrid bombing.
Armando Spataro, Europe was no longer just the logistics base for terrorists
that it had once seemed immediately after 9/11.
[through interpreter] Those
convictions are outdated. Now
Europe is also a place for attacks.
We do not have the threats anymore, now we have bombs and plans for
NARRATOR: Plans for bombings. Madrid provided enough evidence of
that. The bombing here last March
succeeded in having Spain withdraw from Iraq. Yet eight months later, Madrid was in the crosshairs
again. In November, police busted
yet another jihadist cell. They
were driven, it seems, by Salafist jihadist propaganda that the lands of
Andalusia belong back in the Islamic caliphate. And this time, seven targets, selected for symbolism,
bombing plans that would have eclipsed the carnage of March 11th.
DE ARISTEGUI, Member of Parliament, Spain:
Thirty-eight people have been arrested so far. I'm sure that it's going to be growing. It's a very serious operation. They were going to attack Spain in
several— in several places and attack landmark buildings and landmark
NARRATOR: The targets included a skyscraper by
the architect who designed the World Trade Center in New York City, the
Audencia Nacional, where the anti-terrorist judge Balthazar Garzon has his
offices, the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, home of the Real Madrid soccer
club. It doesn't take a lot of
imagination to guess what a bomb would do here during a football match.
DE ARISTEGUI: We have been intensified as a target
because they are intensifying their activities against all the West. They're going to try it again in
London, in Paris, in Rome, wherever.
NARRATOR: And nowhere seems safe. Last March, 191 people were killed,
more than 1,400 were maimed, and it turns out the latest plans were to bomb
Atocha station again.
QAEDA'S NEW FRONT
AND DIRECTED BY
Docherty & Lowell Bergman
of Northern Colorado Archives
CBC/the fifth estate
The New York Times
Van Natta Jr.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
coproduction of CBC/the fifth estate and WGBH/FRONTLINE in association with The
New York Times
FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH
Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: Visit FRONTLINE's Web site for more on
this report, including a country-by-country breakdown of Europe's terrorist
activity, a look at why radical Islamic ideologies are taking root in Europe,
and the differences in how the U.S. and Europe are fighting terrorism, plus a
chance to watch the full program on line.
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