The FBI, in conjunction with law enforcement agencies across Europe, have been investigating the funding of a al Qaeda terrorist cell in Spain since at least last October. The investigation comes just days after the arrest in Barcelona of Ahmed Brahim, the alleged accountant for Bin Laden's operations in Spain, who had a home and business interests in Majorca. While the Guardia Civil and Spanish anti-terrorist squads examine documents seized from Ahmed Brahim's Barcelona home on Sunday and probe his business operations in Palma, sources for the FBI confirmed yesterday that a terrorist cell with ties to Al Qaeda has, and still is under investigation in Spain. According to the federal Bureau of Investigation, the Spanish cell used stolen credit cards in fictitious sales scams and for numerous other purchases for the terrorists. All purchases were kept below an amount where identification would have to be presented and they also used stolen telephone and credit cards for communications back to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Extensive use of false passports and travel documents were used to open bank accounts where money for the mujahadin movement was sent to and from countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Spanish cell also relied on street crimes, burglaries and car thefts to fund their activities. The arrest of Brahim and the discovery of his Majorcan business “fronts” actually brings the total number of suspected Islamic terrorists arrested in Spain since September 11 to 16. Eight were detained on November 13 on charges of being involved in the preparations for S-11, and police believe Brahim could prove to be an important key to the cell's operations. It was confirmed yesterday that in September 1998, just after the August 7 blasts at the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which Brahim is suspected of being involved with, Mahdouh Mahmud Salim, an alleged founding member of al Qaeda and, as reported yesterday, currently in a US prison awaiting trial on conspiracy charges for the two bombings, spent four says in Majorca, staying at Brahim's luxury Paseo Maritimo flat. The relationship between the two men was crucial to the police's investigation and also poses a number of important questions which the law enforcement and anti-terrorist agencies across Europe and the US are busy trying to solve. The big question is did Brahim meet Mohamed Atta, the suspected September 11 ring leader who was on board the hijacked Flight 11. Guardia Civil sources claim that there is evidence indicating that the two men met in Spain, either in Barcelona or in Majorca last summer as the attack on the Twin Towers was being planned. Police have established that Atta, who has close connections with Salim through an Egyptian doctor, also called Atta, visited Spain twice last year. First in January and then in July, the same month in which Brahim is believed to have sold his Palma flat. Atta arrived in Madrid, where he hired a car and drove to Barcelona, where Brahim was living and checked in to various hotels in and around the city. Police also know that the phone number of Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the alleged leader of eight of the Spanish-held suspects, appeared in an address book found in a Hamburg apartment where Atta had lived. Security officials had admitted that Spain has been an important rear-guard base for the al Qaeda network, providing safe houses, financing and fake documents for terrorists on their way to commit attacks elsewhere. Brahim, who is Saudi and not Algerian, has legal residency permits to live in Spain. He moved to Barcelona a year ago after moving from Palma and while the police have not disclosed any link between September 11 and Brahim, they have confirmed that he has been sending money to other European nations, possibly to other terrorist cells. However, if police can establish a link between Brahim and Atta, a key hijacker, it will prove crucial in the problem of the 15 suspected Islamic militants being held. Another lead the police are also following up is the apparent visit of Sahid Bahaji with an Arab colleague on September 14 last year. The German police suspect that Bahaji was part of a cell which planned bombing the Twin Towers and the Pentagon as alternatives should the plan to hijack the planes fail. A German couple sitting behind the men on a flight from Hannover to Palma recognised Bahaji, his picture had appeared in that day's edition of Bild which they were reading and on arrival the couple told Manacor Guardia Civil, but the reported sighting was never confirmed. If Brahim does transpire to be al Qaeda's chief accountant in Spain, having used his Majorca yachting business which apparently went bust and closed down some four years ago, as a front for much of the money, taking him down and shutting off another financial link for the terrorist organisation will be hailed as another victory in the war against terrorism. One of the FBI's main objectives is to “cut off the financial lifeblood of individuals and organisations responsible for acts of terrorism.”

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