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chronology - the plots by zachary k. johnson
Nizar Trabelsi is a former professional soccer player turned Islamic militant who planned to blow up a NATO airbase in Belgium. Here is a close examination of his case, which provides a glimpse at the challenges facing counterterrorism officials. Plus, a chronology of other significant plots uncovered in Europe both before and after 9/11.

+ Bin Laden's Striker: The case of Nizar Trabelsi

Europe's protracted struggle with terrorists began long before Sept. 11. For 30 years, the continent weathered attacks from left-wing extremist groups -- from the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, to separatist groups like the Irish Republican Army in Britain and the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain -- only to find itself in the mid-1990s with an entirely new adversary: Islamic militants.

Despite the growing number of individuals with terrorist ties living and planning violence in Europe, security agencies have been able to keep the continent relatively free from attack. In the last 10 years, European counterterrorism forces, building off the institutional knowledge of earlier experiences, have amassed a growing list of arrests, convictions and thwarted plots.

One such case was the 2003 conviction of Tunisian Nizar Trabelsi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting to drive a car bomb into Kleine Brogel, a NATO airbase in Belgium where U.S. military personnel work. Trabelsi seemed like an unlikely candidate for Islamic militancy before his radicalization. A seemingly integrated North African immigrant, he played professional soccer in Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and according to media reports, he did not embrace radical Islam until the mid-1990s after a period of petty crime and drug abuse. His path culminated in face-to-face meetings with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Trabelsi's story is a unique case study of how seemingly integrated immigrants end up joining terrorist organizations. His saga left many in Europe asking why a celebrated football player would turn against the continent he'd lived in for more than a decade.

+ The Roots

Fortuna Düsseldorf in Germany thought it had found a promising striker when it signed Trabelsi in 1989. But the team soon dropped him, and according to media reports, he drifted from team to team, developed a cocaine habit and racked up criminal offenses.

According to Belgian authorities, Trabelsi was recruited after leaving a German prison by Islamic fundamentalists at a mosque in Dostrum, a city in northwestern Germany. Djamel Beghal, who convinced Trabelsi to go to Afghanistan and was later convicted of planning to attack the U.S. embassy in Paris, also frequented this mosque. Trabelsi became hardened and met with other fundamentalists in Brussels and London and became associated with Takfir wal-Hijra, a radical Islamic group recently tied to the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.

Trabelsi intersects the overlapping networks of Islamist terrorism throughout Europe. In addition to Kleine Brogel, he has been connected to the plot against the U.S. embassy in Paris, to suspected terrorists in Spain and to Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe-bomber."

+ A Pattern of Alienation

Trabelsi's path through violent extremism is in many ways typical to that of other immigrants found in terrorist cells across the continent. "The story of Nizar Trabelsi is similar to those of many of the other 40 suspected terrorists prosecuted in Belgium since 9/11," says Glenn Audenaert, director of the Federal Police Service in Brussels. "They tried to become part of a multicultural society but, for whatever reason, they did not fit in."

Accustomed to large communities of family and friends, Muslim immigrants are often isolated and suffer psychologically. They are drawn to people from similar backgrounds, says Mary-Jane Deeb, a North Africa expert at the American University in Washington. "But if the people they gravitate toward happen to be Islamist militants, they could fall under their influence."

It is this alienation and feeling of discrimination that can foster hatred for their adopted land, she says. "Resentment builds up, and anger builds against a society they feel treats them poorly."

This is largely understood by experts to be the reason why Trabelsi and others found themselves in Al Qaeda-run camps in Afghanistan. A year before his trial, in a radio interview from prison, Trabelsi said while learning to mix explosives at the training camp, he came to love bin Laden "like a father."

It was while in Afghanistan in 2001, Trabelsi said during his trial, that he saw a picture of a baby Palestinian girl killed in the Gaza Strip that convinced him to become a suicide bomber.

+ The New Challenge for Law Enforcement

European law enforcement and intelligence agencies are increasingly coordinating their anti-terrorism efforts. Every Monday, police in Brussels, Belgium's domestic and foreign intelligence services and a federal prosecutor go over what Audenaert, the federal police director, calls the "weekly laundry list" of information. The intelligence officials tap into other European agencies through Europol and provide information to police that they use to make arrests or build criminal cases.

Europe's counterterrorism efforts have produced scores of arrests. From Sept. 11, 2001 until the end of September 2004, 701 people were arrested, 119 were charged and 17 were convicted under the Terrorism Act of 2000 in the United Kingdom. Of those charged, 135 were charged with other crimes, some of which could included terrorism-related offenses, according to the British Home Office. In 2004, France arrested 101 suspected Islamic militants, up from 77 in 2003. Spain made more than 130 arrests in 2004.

However, because of the possible connections between those arrested and those still on the radar of the police and intelligence agencies, it's difficult to know exactly what has been foiled by law enforcement. "I think they've kept some of it secret," says Richard Stoll, international conflict specialist at Rice University in Texas. Doing so "might reveal how you figured it out and make it impossible to use that source of information again."

It is difficult to gauge the impact of each arrest, but Stoll says a good way to measure success is to look at what hasn't happened, noting that apart from the train bombings in Madrid, terrorists haven't succeeded in a significant attack on the continent.

Despite the clandestine nature of counterterrorism, some information about uncovered plots, prevented attacks and suspected terrorists has entered the public domain.

Here is a chronology of some of the significant arrests and both successful and foiled plots in Europe by Islamic extremists over the past decade:

December 1994

Target: Eiffel Tower

When Algeria's military prevented the expected election victory of an Islamist political party in 1992, it launched a bloody civil war and unleashed the Armed Islamic Group, a terrorist organization better known by its acronym GIA. The violence spread to France, Algeria's former colonial ruler.

On Christmas Eve in 1994, four GIA members hijacked an Air France aircraft in Algiers, killed three hostages and flew to France. They rigged the plane with dynamite and planned to crash into the Eiffel Tower in Paris. French commandos stormed the plane as it stopped to refuel in Marseilles, killed the four hijackers and rescued the 170 passengers, ending their two-day ordeal.

July 1995

Paris Metro Bombings

On July 25, 1995, a gas canister rigged with nails exploded inside a train in the St. Michel rail station in Paris, killing seven and wounding more than 150. It was the bloodiest in a series of bomb attacks that terrorized the city that year. The attacks continued and the toll rose to eight killed and about 200 injured.

Accused GIA members Boualem Bensaid and Smain Ali Belkacem were arrested in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison in October 2002 for their role in the bombings. Another Algerian suspect, Khaled Kelkal, was shot and killed by police in Lyons.

In 1998, France tried Farid Melouk in absentia. He was arrested in Belgium during a series of arrests before the 1998 World Cup plot. He now sits in jail in Belgium. Another suspect, Rachid Ramda, still awaits extradition after his 1996 arrest in Britain on charges stemming from the Paris bombings.

Summer 1998

Target: World Cup?

Before millions of soccer fans began filling stadiums in France to watch the World Cup tournament in June 1998, authorities in Europe were worried about a possible terrorist strike and made a series of arrests.

During a March sweep conducted in collaboration with France, Sweden, Britain and Italy, Belgian authorities found explosives and detonators, but denied early press reports that the arrests uncovered a plot to attack the World Cup. (However, three years later, the chief of France's counterintelligence agency revealed that the arrests were in connection to a plot against the tournament.) Among those arrested was Algerian Farid Melouk, suspected of belonging to the GIA and wanted in connection of the Paris Metro bombings. He was sentenced to nine years in Belgium for attempted murder and other charges.

In May, two weeks before the start of the World Cup, the French Ministry of the Interior announced a series of arrests that were prompted by concerns that terrorists would target the tournament. About 80 people were detained in France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Germany. After the arrests, French authorities said they hadn't uncovered any evidence of a plot to attack the World Cup, but said some of those arrested were suspected of planning to assassinate Dalil Boubakeur, a prominent Parisian Muslim.

Except for soccer-fan riots, the Cup passed without violent incident.

December 2000

Targets: Strasbourg Christmas Market and European Parliament

In December 2000, German police raided an apartment in Frankfurt, arresting four men and finding bomb-making equipment. They also discovered a recently-made video of the crowded Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France, with a voiceover calling the people in the video "enemies of God." The Germans were tipped off by British intelligence, which, according to news reports, had intercepted a call from one of the arrested men indicating an attack was imminent. The phone conversation was with Abu Doha, a man wanted by the United States in connection with a plot to explode a bomb at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Members in the Frankfurt cell had trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and had connections in Spain and Italy as well as ties to the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat, better known by its French acronym, GSPC. According to the London Sunday Telegraph, the arrests in Frankfurt led to further arrests in Britain and the discovery of a plot to kill the members of the European Parliament with sarin nerve gas as they met in Strasbourg in February 2001.

Aeurobui Benali, Salim Boukari, Fouhad Sabour and Lamine Maroni were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and other offenses by a Frankfurt court in March 2003 and sentenced to serve between 10 to 12 years in prison. German prosecutors dropped a charge that the men were part of a wider terrorist network.

The suspected leaders of the plot, Slimane Khalfaoui, and Mohammed Bensakhria, a.k.a. Meliani, were sentenced in France to 10 years in prison in December 2004. Nine others were sentenced in the trial.

January 2001

Target: U.S. Embassy in Rome

In January 2001, Italian authorities uncovered a plot by Al Qaeda-linked extremists to bomb the U.S. embassy in Rome. The threat shut down embassies in Rome and Vatican City and consulates in Milan and Naples.

Three months later, Italians arrested the suspected ringleader, Sami Ben Khemais Essid, and four other North Africans with ties to Osama bin Laden. Ben Khemais, who ran Al Qaeda operations in Italy, directed the plot against the embassy in Rome and, according to the U.S. State Department, was a leader of a terrorist organization called the Tunisian Combatant group.

Trained in an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, Ben Khemais recruited members from Italy and had ties to terrorist cells throughout Europe, including the Strasbourg Christmas market plotters; Italian authorities found he placed several calls to Mohammed Bensakhria, the leader of the Frankfurt cell. Ben Khemais was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in 2002.

Khemais and other suspected terrorists -- including some with links to terrorists who were responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and 1998 attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania -- attended the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan. In November 2001, police arrested suspects connected to the institute, including Yassine Chekkouri, the institute's librarian, and Abdelhalim Hafed Remadna. They were found guilty in February 2004 with three others tied to the institute of having connections to a cell that recruited overseas fighters. Remadna received a seven-and-one-half-year sentence; Chekkouri, four.

February 2001

Millennium Plot

In February 2001, police arrested Abu Doha, a.k.a "the Doctor," who was suspected of bankrolling the so-called Millennium Plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in the beginning of 2000. Doha was detained at London's Heathrow Airport after trying to board a plane to Saudi Arabia with a fake passport.

According to a U.S. federal grand jury indictment, Doha is alleged to have planned the attack while in an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. There he allegedly met bin Laden and an Algerian named Ahmed Ressam, who in December 1999 was arrested trying to enter the U.S. from Canada with explosives and timing devices he intended to use to attack the airport.

Doha awaits extradition from the United Kingdom to stand trial in the United States. Ressam was found guilty in 2001 and, facing a 130-year sentence, agreed to cooperate with investigators, according to the FBI. Sentencing is now scheduled for Feb. 17, 2005, according to the U.S. District Court in Washington state.

July 2001

Target: G-8 Summit

Two months before 9/11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned of a possibility that suicide attackers would try to crash an explosive-laden aircraft into Genoa, Italy in an attempt to assassinate President George W. Bush and other world leaders at the Group of Eight Summit in July 2001.

News of the possible threat prompted Italian to install a missile defense system at a nearby airport and declare the skies above Genoa a no-fly zone. However, three months later, The New York Times called into question the credibility of this threat, citing sources that had viewed the videotape on which President Mubarak based his intelligence.

September 2001

Targets: Kleine Brogel and the Paris Embassy

Two days after 9/11, authorities in Belgium raided Nizar Trabelsi's apartment in a middle-class suburb of Brussels, finding a submachine gun, ammunition and a list of bomb-making ingredients. They then found bomb-making ingredients in a coffee-shop basement and implicated Trabelsi in a scheme to bomb the U.S. embassy in Paris.

Trabelsi had been implicated by Djamel Beghal, the accused ringleader of the embassy plot, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July 2001. According to UAE authorities, Beghal confessed while in detention, but he has since recanted, saying his statement had been extracted by torture. In March 2005, Beghal and five others were convicted by a French court of conspiring to carry out the attack. Beghal was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison, while his accomplices received lesser sentences.

Trabelsi denied involvement in the Paris embassy plot, but admitted he was an Al Qaeda suicide bomber planning to strike Kleine Brogel, a NATO military base used by U.S. troops and believed to hold nuclear weapons. Trabelsi was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to 10 years. At the same trial, his associate and fellow Tunisian Tarek Maaroufi was accused of providing fake travel documents to the two assassins of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Northern Alliance leader killed in 2001. Maaroufi was convicted and sentenced to six years.

In 2002, Jerome Courtailler, a French convert to Islam, and Abdelghani Rabia, an Algerian, were acquitted by a Dutch court of involvement in both the Kleine Brogel and the U.S. embassy plots and deported. In June 2004, both were convicted in absentia by the Netherlands of belonging to a terrorist organization. Courtailler turned himself in days later; Rabia is thought to be in Algeria.

October 2001

Target: Stade de France

In October 2001, the night before a soccer match between the French and Algerian national teams -- the first since Algeria fought its way to independence from France in 1962 -- police seized explosives and arrested four suspected Islamist militants who allegedly had targeted the game.

Authorities had intercepted a phone warning to stay away from the Stade de France, the stadium north of Paris that holds a crowd of 80,000. Police found bulletproof vests and explosives manuals with the suspects. France led 4-1, with 15 minutes remaining, when Algerian fans rushed the field, stopping the game.

November 2001

Garzón and Al Qaeda

Hamburg train station

Spain rounded up a number of suspected Islamist militants after Sept. 11, including the alleged leader of Al Qaeda in Spain, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a. Abu Dahdah, whose phone number was found in a Hamburg apartment suspected to be used by two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Yarkas and the Spanish cell was accused by investigating judge Baltasar Garzón of raising money through credit card fraud and supporting militants in Chechnya, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Indonesia.

Besides Yarkas, two others indicted by Garzón are accused of contributing to the Sept. 11 attacks, and 24 are accused of joining a terrorist network.

Trials resulting from Garzón's eight-year investigation are expected in 2005.

February 2002

Target: Roman Water Supply

In February 2002, details emerged about what appeared to be a plot to poison the water supply flowing into the U.S. embassy in Rome.

Italian police found approximately 10 pounds of a chemical compound containing cyanide in an apartment in Rome with maps highlighting the U.S. embassy and showing the city's water system. When police discovered recently-made holes in the underground passageways near the embassy, it looked like a serious threat had been uncovered. However, press reports soon cited officials saying the chemical likely would have become harmless once diluted by the water. Nine Moroccans were arrested, but in April 2004, all were acquitted.

October 2002

German Cell

After German media reported that investigators had been monitoring a suspected Islamic cell that planned to bomb a U.S. military facility, an American radio station in Frankfurt and a Jewish center in Berlin, police stormed 11 locations in three states, arresting five people. The cell reportedly was based at a university in the eastern city of Cottbus.

Federal prosecutors found no evidence of planned attacks. Four of the arrested were released, and the fifth, a 41-year-old Algerian, was slated for deportation.

November 2002

Ricin Network

Following media reports of a thwarted plot to attack the London Underground subway system with poison gas, North Africans Rabah Kadre, Rabah Chehaj-Bias and Karim Kadouri were arrested under Britain's Terrorism Act. The British government denied evidence of a poison gas attack.

Kadre's name surfaced again in December 2002, when police in France arrested nine North Africans, including Mirouane Benahmed, who was connected to Kadre, on suspicion of planning a bomb attack, possibly against Russian interests in retaliation for military action in Chechnya. Benahmed and fellow suspects Nouredine Merabet and Menad Benchellali reportedly trained in camps in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia with Chechen fighters and Al Qaeda operatives who specialized in toxic substances.

On Jan. 5, 2003, London Metropolitan Police and domestic security organization MI5 found a laboratory to make the deadly poison ricin in a London apartment. (A few milligrams of ricin can kill an adult.) North Africans Mustapha Taleb, Mouloud Feddag, Sidali Feddag and Samir Feddag were charged with producing chemical weapons and other terrorism offenses. The trail led to an apartment in Manchester, where a deputy was stabbed to death. Kamal Bourgass was accused of the murder and conspiring to make a chemical weapon.

In February 2003, Kadre, along with Mouloud Sihali and David Aissa Khalef, was charged with conspiring to make a chemical weapon. Kadre and Bourgass were also tied to militants in central Asia, according to media reports.

In March 2003, French investigators found traces of ricin in bottles tucked away in a rail station locker in Paris.

During his address to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the ricin-making cells in Britain and France were connected to a network that spread to the Middle East, where it was headed by Jordanian-born Palestinian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now a notorious militant leader in Iraq.

May 2003


On May 16, 2003 in a coordinated attack that struck a Jewish cultural center and other targets in Casablanca, 12 suicide bombers wounded approximately 100 and killed 45, including most of the bombers. Moroccan authorities linked the attackers to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

After the attacks, Moroccan officials sentenced two surviving bombers to death and rounded up thousands of people suspected of having ties to terrorism. Human rights groups criticized the Moroccan government crackdown, which sometimes resulted in mass trials for up to 50 people.

Because three French citizens were killed in the Casablanca attack, France launched its own investigation. In April 2004, French police swept through Paris suburbs, arresting 15 men and women. Morocco also issued arrest warrants for three of those arrested, including Moustapha Baouchi, a Moroccan citizen believed to lead the French cell of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an organization which has been tied to the March 2004 Madrid train bombings.

November 2003

The Hamburg-Milan-Iraq Connection

While breaking up a network that sent European recruits to fight in Iraq, police in Milan issued an arrest warrant for Algerian Abderrazak Mahdjoub, aka the "Sheikh," who was arrested by German police on Nov. 28 and extradited to Milan in March 2004.

An Italian judge indicted Mahdjoub and five others in September 2004; their trial is expected in February 2005.

Italian investigators later said that the cell had recruited at least 200 fighters -- most of them Algerians and Tunisians from Germany, Italy and Britain, including one recruit from Italy who, according to the Associated Press, may have taken part in a rocket attack on a Baghdad Hotel occupied by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in October 2003. Madhjoub reportedly had ties with Al Qaeda-linked militant group Ansar al-Islam, based in northern Iraq.

November 2003


Aftermath of truck bomb in Istanbul

In November 2003, Istanbul shuddered under a series of explosions that killed at least 60 and wounded at least 750. On Nov. 15, two suicide truck bombs exploded outside of the Neve Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues. Five days later, two more trucks detonated outside the British HSBC Bank and the British Consulate, killing the consul general.

Turkish prosecutors believe the coordinated attacks were orchestrated by a local Al Qaeda cell. At least 69 suspects were arrested in the aftermath.

Those who orchestrated the attack are believed to have escaped to Iraq.

March 2004


Body being removed from the wreckage of train bombs in Madrid

On March 11, bombs inside four trains in or near Madrid's Atocha train station exploded. By 7:39 a.m., a total of 10 bombs -- stowed in luggage racks, stuffed into garbage containers or lying on the floor -- had detonated, killing 191 and wounded more than 1,800.

Police immediately began arresting suspects, including Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan cell-phone store owner linked to the phones used as detonators. On April 4, one of the ringleaders, Sarhane "The Tunisian" Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, blew himself up when cornered by police, killing himself and seven others, including a police officer.

Other suspected masterminds were netted in the months that followed: Rabei Osman el-Sayed Ahmed, a.k.a. Mohamed the Egyptian, was arrested in Italy. He was extradited to Spain for questioning but has since been returned to Italy and will stand trial on international terrorism charges. Hassan el-Haski, the alleged European leader of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, was arrested in the Canary Islands. He remains in Spanish custody.

More than 30 suspects are in custody and will face charges in connection with the bombings. 70 have been detained and released, but they are still considered suspects. One 16-year-old has been sentenced to six years in youth detention. In 2004 Spain arrested more than 130 people suspected to be involved in Islamic terrorism, 62 of which are connected to the train attack.

March 2004

British Dirty Bomb?

On heightened alert after the tragedy in Madrid, authorities in Britain uncovered two plots in late March and early April of 2004.

In raids on March 30, 700 officers from seven law enforcement agencies found a half-ton of fertilizer that is used in bomb making and arrested eight British citizens believed to be of Pakistani descent. Five men faced terrorism charges; three of the men were charged with the possession of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer used to make the bomb that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Citing unnamed sources, the BBC and other media reported on April 6 that U.S. and British intelligence forces had intercepted calls that indicated a plot to combine caustic chemicals and conventional explosives in an attack on civilians in a crowded public space. The plot was reportedly thwarted and may have been connected to the ammonium nitrate discovery.

May 2004

British Imams

On May 26, at the request of the United States, Metropolitan Police from Britain's New Scotland Yard arrested a controversial former Egyptian-born imam of a radical mosque in Finsbury Park.

Notorious for his public endorsements of Al Qaeda, Abu Hamza al-Masri was named in a U.S. indictment in which he was accused of paying for satellite phones used by hostage-taking terrorists in Yemen and planning to establish a jihadist training camp in Bly, OR. Before he can be extradited, he must first face British charges ranging from igniting racial hatred, inciting murder and possessing documents related to terrorism.

Another radical London cleric, Abu Qatada, has been detained since 2002 without trial under British anti-terrorism laws. Qatada has been called a spiritual leader among Islamic militants in Europe. Tapes of his fiery sermons were found in the Hamburg, Germany apartment of Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and were also uncovered during a 2004 raid in Cremona, Italy.

September 2004

Belgium Terror Trial

In September 2004, Tarek Maaroufi, who was convicted of terrorism offenses in Belgium the year before, stood trial with 10 other defendants in a Belgian court. Most were of Moroccan origin; all 10 were charged with conspiracy, fraud and weapons offenses. Maaroufi, who was born in Tunisia, was charged with belonging to a terrorist network and having ties with two notorious Al Qaeda leaders: Essid Sami Ben Khemais, who was arrested for the 2001 plot against the U.S. embassy in Rome, and Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the alleged leader of Al Qaeda in Spain.

Maaroufi is one of the founders of the Tunisian Combatant Group. According to the U.S. State Department, members of this group communicate with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.

In October, five-year sentences were meted out to Maaroufi; Moroccans Driss Elatellah, Yousef El Moumem and Tarik Karim; and Iraqi Kurd Mohammed Saber. The court sentenced three to lesser terms, suspended judgment of one and acquitted another.

October 2004

Target: Spanish National Court

In October, Spain's National Police learned of a plot to attack the National Court, where Spain's top judges investigate terrorism, with a truck laden with a half-ton of dynamite. An informer said the leader was an Algerian born in the United Arab Emirates named Mohamed Achraf. According to a police intelligence report cited by the Associated Press, Achraf recruited members of his "Martyrs for Morocco" cell inside a jail in western Spain sometime after the March 11 attacks. The attack was meant to punish Spain, kill its judges and destroy its terrorism records. Achraf awaits extradition from Switzerland, where he had been arrested on an immigration offense.

Among those arrested was Madjid Sahouane, an Algerian also arrested in 2001 on suspicion of having connections to other European terrorist suspects, including Nizar Trabelsi.

Spanish authorities detained approximately 30 North Africans connected with the cell and later announced the group also planned to bomb other buildings, train stations and the 75,000-seat arena used by soccer team Real Madrid.

Dutch intelligence is investigating links between Achraf's cell and the Netherlands. Swiss media, citing a leaked Spanish and Dutch intelligence document, reported that Achraf funded Islamic militants in the Netherlands and had spoken on the phone with Mohammed Bouyeri, the alleged killer of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.

November 2004

Theo Van Gogh

On Nov. 2, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who had received death threats following the release of "Submission," his short film critical of the mistreatment of Muslim women, was gunned down in the streets of Amsterdam. His attacker slit his throat and pinned a note, written in Arabic, on his chest with a knife.

After a shootout with police immediately following the attack, Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri was taken into custody. Dutch police later arrested 13 men, mostly North African Muslims, known as the "Hofstad" network. This group is suspected of having ties to cells in Spain and Belgium as well as links to the 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca and the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid.

On July 26, 2005, Bouyeri was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, for which he expressed no remorse during his trial.

December 2004

More Spanish Arrests

Spanish police arresting a suspect

Acting on foreign intelligence, approximately 100 Spanish police officers descended on a suspected Islamic cell in northeastern Spain near Barcelona on Dec. 22 and arrested three Moroccans on suspicion of planning to buy explosives.

One was released, but two -- Majid Bakkali and Mohamed Douha -- were kept in custody after being charged with belonging to a terrorist organization and planning a terrorist attack. A fourth Moroccan, Mustafa Farhaoui, was netted in the same operation and charged with belonging to a terrorist organization.

December 2004

Iraqi Prime Minister Assassination Attempt

While monitoring telephone conversations between suspected Islamic militants, German investigators noticed a flurry of activity corresponding with a December visit to Berlin by Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. On the night of Dec. 3, police raided nine buildings in Berlin, Augsburg and Stuttgart and arrested three Iraqis suspected of belonging to Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group based in northern Iraq.

In Munich, police also arrested a man identified as Amin Lokman Mohammed, reportedly an Ansar al-Islam member with ties to others in Italy and Sweden. Federal prosecutors brought charges against the Iraqi, accusing him of smuggling money, recruits and medical supplies into Iraq. He was also suspected of transporting a wounded leader through Europe to receive medical treatment in Britain.

Formed in December 2001 by Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, Ansar al-Islam has strong ties to Al Qaeda and, according to the U.S. State Department, is one of the leading groups orchestrating attacks against the United States and its allies in Iraq. It also has ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

More than 20 supporters of Ansar al-Islam have been arrested in Europe in the past year, and Germany is expected of housing as many as 100.

January 2005

German Sweep

Germans wrapped up a long-term investigation of smuggling and document forging tied to Ansar al-Islam in a massive operation in which 700 officers detained 22 suspects in raids across five states. Though the suspects were not accused of planning any attacks, authorities alleged they were spreading racial hatred, recruiting people for jihad and providing fake documents to people living in Europe illegally. Some of the network is suspected of training in Ansar al-Islam camps in northern Iraq.

January 2005

Additional 9/11 Indictments in Spain

On Jan. 17, 2005, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón indicted eight people on suspicion of providing material support to Sept. 11 planner Ramzi bin al-Shibh and other Al Qaeda members tied to the attack. The indictment named Reda Zerroug, Redouane Zenimi, Samir Mahdjoub, Mohamed Ayat, Hedi Ben Youssef Boudhiba, Khaled Madani, Tahar Ezirouali and Francisco Garcia Gomez. Madani is suspected of possibly giving passports to bin al-Shibh as well as receiving money from another member of the Hamburg cell tied to the Sept. 11 attacks. The suspects were also said to be linked to Ansar al-Islam and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

July 2005

Explosions in London

During morning rush hour on July 7, 2005, four explosions ripped through the London transport system, affecting three separate areas of the Underground and one double-decker bus. At least 50 people were killed and more than 700 injured. On a popular Islamic militant Web site, a group calling itself the Secret Organization of al Qaeda in Europe claimed responsibility for the attacks.


Zachary Johnson is a student at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His articles have appeared in the Oakland Tribune, the Novato Advance and the Vero Beach Press Journal.

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