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Attackers in Spain blasts are said to have acted without Al Qaeda links

MADRID -- An investigation into the Madrid train bombings two years ago has found that the Islamic terrorists who carried out the blasts were acting on their own, rather than at the behest of Al Qaeda, two senior intelligence officials said.

Spain is reported to be a home to a web of radical Algerian, Moroccan and Syrian groups bent on carrying out attacks, and on aiding the insurgency against US troops in Iraq, a Spanish intelligence leader and a Western official who was involved in counterterrorism measures in Spain, said in an interview.

The intelligence official said that there were no phone calls between the Madrid bombers and Al Qaeda, and that no money transfers had been recorded. The Western official said the plotters had links to other Islamic radicals in Western Europe, but that the plan was hatched and organized in Spain. ''This was not an Al Qaeda operation," he said. ''It was homegrown."

Both men spoke on condition of anonymity, the first because Spanish security officials are not allowed to discuss details of an investigation; the second because of the sensitive nature of his job.

The attack has been frequently described as being linked to Al Qaeda, since a man who identified himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and who said he was Al Qaeda's ''European military spokesman," claimed responsibility in a videotape released two days later.

Ahead of the anniversary tomorrow of the explosions on March 11, 2004, which killed 191 people and wounded 1,500, a number of victims' groups have pressed for more progress in the investigation.

Gabriel Moris, whose 30-year-old son, Juan Pablo, died in the bombings, said: ''These past two years have done nothing to clear up what happened. My questions are simple: Who ordered the massacre? Who killed my son and the other innocent victims?"

An official said that authorities said that they know more than they have revealed, including the suspected ideological and operational masterminds of the attack.

''We haven't explained it well enough to the victims because we can't reveal judicial secrets," he said, adding the investigation is nearly complete.

Authorities have said that the ideological mastermind was Serhan Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a Tunisian who blew himself up with six other suspects when police surrounded their apartment three weeks after the bombings, and that Jamal Ahmidan, a Moroccan who also died that day, was the ''military planner."

Law enforcement officials had focused on another man, Allekema Lamari, as the head of the group. But the official said evidence, particularly from wiretapped phone conversations, indicated it was Ahmidan who gave the military orders. Lamari also died in the apartment blast in a Madrid suburb as authorities closed in.

Authorities have arrested 116 people in the bombings, and 24 remain jailed. At least three others, Said Berraj, Mohammed Belhadj and Daoud Ouhane,are sought by authorities, although all are believed to have fled Spain long ago. The intelligence official said the top planners are all either dead or in jail.

While the plotters of the Madrid attack may have been motivated by bin Laden's call in October 2003 for attacks on European countries that supported the US-led invasion of Iraq, there is no evidence they were in contact with the Al Qaeda leader's inner circle, the intelligence official said.

Most of the plotters were Moroccan and Syrian immigrants, many with criminal records in Spain for drug trafficking and other crimes. They paid for explosives used in the attack with hashish.

The intelligence official said the March 11 attacks were a wakeup call, and authorities are much better prepared now to stop Islamic terrorism. But he said the bombings show how easy it is for those bent on terrorism to carry out attacks.

He said authorities believe the Madrid bombers learned how to construct the bombs from Internet sites linked to radical Islamic groups. The devices were similar to ones used in the 2002 Bali bombing, he said.

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