Al Qaeda Nuclear Smuggler Nabbed
Barcelona police netted a big al Qaeda fish on Sunday, April 14 when they raided the home of an Algerian, Ahmed Brahim, a long-time resident of the Spanish city. Investigators suspect Brahim, 57, of transferring funds to al Qaeda operatives, to bankroll the August 1998 bombings that killed 225 people at the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The counter-terrorist police squad that raided Brahim’s villa, clad in plainclothes and balaclavas, removed computers and numerous boxes of documents. Brahim’s Finnish wife, Firjo, told reporters she hadn’t a clue why police were interested in her husband and denied he had any link to al Qaeda. “My husband,” she said, “dealt with people from Saudi Arabia and with things that glorified the name of the Prophet (Mohammed).”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources report Brahim was a key figure in al-Qaeda’s network of buyers and smugglers of nuclear material, such as Uranium 235, which can be used to produce nuclear bombs and devices.
Brahim and the network used the sleepy Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco across from Gibraltar, as the main base for their clandestine activities. (Read about the nuclear ties between Osama bin Laden and the mafia in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 33, October 12, 2001).
Al Qaeda and various mafia organizations in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia have been using the enclaves as smuggling centers for years. Until recently, anyone flying from the enclaves into a Spanish international airport, such as Madrid, Malaga or Barcelona, did not need to present a passport or any other travel document on arrival. Ceuta and Melilla became the perfect transit points into Europe for mafia men and terrorists.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, various intelligence agencies including the CIA have been keeping a close eye on Brahim for the past six years. To throw watchers off his trail, Brahim would avoid direct travel from Barcelona or any other Spanish city to Ceuta and Melilla. Instead, he often hopped a plane to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and, several days later, flew to Rabat, Morocco, where he rented a car and drove to the enclaves.
The return journey he made by air, but avoided flying directly to Barcelona, stopping over instead in Malaga, where Spanish immigration and customs authorities are more lax.
Four Frenchmen, described by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources as mafia “mules” for smuggling “sensitive goods”, were arrested along with Brahim at his Barcelona home, marking the first time non-Muslim European members of active al Qaeda cells are apprehended. Sources close to the investigation say al Qaeda often pays criminal elements of European appearance to carry out certain tasks where members from the Middle East would arouse suspicion
After anti-terrorism police handcuffed Brahim and hustled him out of the villa, the suspect’s wife told reporters that he only did business with Saudis, a lead which the Spanish and US are anxious to follow, to find out who exactly in Saudi Arabia was involved in buying stolen or smuggled nuclear material.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources say US and Spanish investigators are still at the outset of their inquiry. Currently in Spanish hands are 17 suspected al Qaeda activists. Eight were picked up in Madrid in November and thought to be directly involved in the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington; two were taken into custody in January. The group includes
Adin Barake Yarkes, believed to be the head of al-Qaeda’s networks in Spain. US and Spanish authorities have evidence of direct contact between Yarkes and Mohammed Atta, the chief hijacker on September 11.
Spain is certain some of those suspects also took part in al Qaeda’s nuclear smuggling activities, but have not yet pinned them down by name.