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Al Qaeda's New Front

Produced & Directed by Neil Docherty
Written by Neil Docherty and Lowell Bergman
Correspondent, Lowell Bergman


Pres. 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.

MAN ON LONDON STREET CORNER: We must prepare to die now!

EXPERT: Al Qaeda today is larger than anyone believed them to be.

EXPERT: 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 enemy.

Sir 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 terror.


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.

[March 12, 2004]

DENISE 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.

One of the bombs exploded near Denise Gilroy.

DENISE 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 were bodies.

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.

LOWELL BERGMAN, FRONTLINE Correspondent: What does the Madrid bombing tell us about al Qaeda today and how it may have changed since September 11?

CHARLES 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 long-term campaign.

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."

CHARLES 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So this was, in a sense, a political scientist of the jihad laying out a roadmap for why you should do something.

CHARLES 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.

As Spanish authorities began to round up suspects, a portrait emerged of the cell: Moroccans, not particularly religious, from the country's large North African population.

GUSTAVO 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.

CHARLES 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.

JEAN-LOUIS 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: It's more powerful, the threat?

JEAN-LOUIS 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: There's no one giving orders?

JEAN-LOUIS BRUGUIERE: It is a mutating system.


JEAN-LOUIS 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.

Prof. 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.

Sir 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.

Sir 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.

The 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 threat.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We're tracking al Qaeda around the world, and nearly two thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed.

Prof. 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: President Bush would disagree with you.

Prof. 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.

GILES 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.

Dr. 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.

MAMOUN ABDELALI, Imam, Mantes la Jolie, France: [through interpreter] 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 identity complex.

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.

GILES 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 vacuum.

NARRATOR: It's into this vacuum that the jihadists have come, offering a message of meaning and identity.

MAMOUN 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.

Prof. 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.

Prince TURKI AL FAISAL, Saudi Ambassador to Great Britain: There is a vast difference between a jihadi Salafi and a Salafi.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So you are Salafi.

Prince 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.

LOWELL 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.

Prince 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.

And 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 would do.

[ 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.

ABU 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 Wa Sallam, 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 mosque.

AIDE: There's no statement to be made vis-a-vis any allegations by the FBI! They're all lies!

POLICE OFFICER: Hey, hey, hey! Guys, guys! Hey, guys, come on!

FOLLOWER: 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.

ABU 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.


ABU 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.

But his views are echoed by other radical imams in Europe, preaching a message that draws its inspiration from bin Laden.

MICHAEL 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.

MICHAEL 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.

LOWELL 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 do that.

MICHAEL 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.

MAN ON 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!

ABU ABDULLAH: [speaks in Arabic] Allah mentioned jihad in the Quran 26 times [Arabic phrase] 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.

ABU 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.

Morocco lies just across the Straits of Gibraltar. Arriving in Tangiers is to pass back in history into a semi-autocratic monarchy. 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.

In 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 brothers.

They come from a prosperous middle class family in Tangiers. We met two of the remaining siblings, Jamal and Niama.

LOWELL 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?

JAMAL 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.

JAMAL 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.

NIAMA 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.

It's 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.

MARC 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.

While Europe was in the Dark Ages, Muslims brought literature, advanced mathematics, the scientific method, and by the 14th century, had built the Alhambra in Granada.

MARC 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?

The 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.

[Spanish police transcript]

AHMED 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.

AHMED 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.

AHMED RABEI: Watch closely. This is the policy of the sword. Slaughter him! Cut his head off! God is great!

YAHIA PAYUMI: Isn't that a sin?

AHMED 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.

ARMANDO 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 others?"

NARRATOR: Spataro realized he was listening to an experienced operative, one who had connections with other cells throughout Europe.

ARMANDO 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.

ISHAC 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.

ISHAC 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.

Another 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.

REDA 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Do you admire bin Laden? What do you think of him?

REDA SAYEM: [through interpreter] We consider that bin Laden is standing on one of the fronts to defend Islam.

LOWELL 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?

REDA 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.

JEAN-LOUIS 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—


JEAN-LOUIS 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.

MAMOUN ABDELALI, Imam, Mantes la Jolie, France: [through interpreter] 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.

MAMOUN 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.

JEAN-LOUIS 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 situation.

Prof. 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 days.

NARRATOR: For the jihadis, Iraq has become a training ground.

REDA 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.

MICHAEL 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.

And 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]

That's 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.

The 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.

Ramzi 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.

ANDREAS 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.

ANDREAS 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.

MICHAEL 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.

Judge Balthazar Garzon blames the Americans because he needs testimony from Ramzi Binalshibh and others who are being kept in Guantanamo.

Judge BALTHAZAR GARZON, Spain: [through interpreter] 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."

LOWELL 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 call them.

MICHAEL 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So the cases in Germany and Spain are in some ways a portent of things to come.

MICHAEL 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.

LOWELL 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—

MICHAEL SCHEUER: Yeah, friction between Europe and the United States is something that certainly benefits Usama bin Laden, without question.

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.

[Spanish police transcript]

AHMED 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.

ARMANDO SPATARO, Terrorist Prosecutor, Milan: [through interpreter] 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.

For Armando Spataro, Europe was no longer just the logistics base for terrorists that it had once seemed immediately after 9/11.

ARMANDO SPATARO: [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 bombings.

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.

GUSTAVO 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 monuments.

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.

GUSTAVO 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.



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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. Then join the discussion at


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