Moroccan-born Amer Azizi was an al Qaeda operative linked to both the September 11 2001 attacks in New York and the Madrid train bombing in 2004.
Born in Hedami, Morocco, in 1968, Amer Azizi undertook military training in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to terrorism monitoring website Global Jihad. He moved to Spain in the early 1990s, where he started attending meetings of Tablighi Jama`at in Madrid, and joined al Qaeda’s Spain-based Abu Dahdah cell, a study of Spain-based terrorists for the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point US military academy later wrote. Its leader, Imad Yarkas (aka Abu Dahdah), sent him to Zenica, Bosnia, for explosives training.
Azizi returned to Spain in 1996 and he met a local woman, Raquel Burgos García, whom he married in 1998. They had three children and lived in Madrid until he fled Spain in October 2001.
By 1999 Azizi was known in jihadist circles by the nom de guerre ‘Othman el Andalusi’ or ‘Othman el Español’. He returned to Afghanistan for training in camps run by al Qaeda and its affiliated north African groups. In October 2000 he was arrested in Istanbul, Turkey alongside Lahcen Ikassrien, Mohammed Haddad and Salahedin Benyaich, all alleged al Qaeda members. They were later released without charge.
In July 2001, Azizi helped Imad Yarkas to organise the ‘Tarragona meeting’, which was attended by individuals who shortly afterwards participated in the September 11 attacks on New York.
By August 2001 Azizi was under investigation by the Spanish police on suspicion of terrorism. On October 11 2001 he bought a ticket to Tehran, Iran, and fled the country, following the September 11 attacks on New York. He moved his family to Casablanca, Morocco, and headed towards north west Pakistan, where he became an increasingly important member of al Qaeda’s leadership.
He did not remain permanently in Pakistan. He travelled in Turkey and even returned to Spain, meeting with individuals including Serhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet (alias ‘The Tunisian’), who went on to become the head of the cell behind the Madrid train bombings. Another close associate of his, Mustafa Maymouni, also led the cell before being arrested in early 2003. Azizi became a key aide to Hamza Rabia, al Qaeda’s chief of operations, who was based in Waziristan, and it appears Azizi became a liaison between the Spain-based organisers of the Madrid bombings and al Qaeda’s central leadership.
A study of the Madrid bombings by the CTC suggested that a trip by Azizi to Spain in late 2003 was to ‘convey the approval of al Qaeda’s senior leadership’ for the bombings and to finalise preparations. He spent four months in Madrid, even selling his car under his own name, but a second warrant for his arrest was issued in September 2003.
On March 11 2004, coordinated bombs exploded on crowded commuter trains at Atocha Station, Madrid, killing 191. Following the attacks, as police closed in on the apartment where the planners were believed to be hiding, the bombers blew it, and themselves, up. Azizi’s phone number was found in the ruins according to Global Jihad and he was closely linked to the bombings – his name appears in 149 of the 271 volumes compiled by Spain’s National Court on the Madrid bombings, terrorism analyst Fernando Reinares reported.
A biography published by Tauhid Press and referred to in a study of the Madrid bombings by the CTC described Azizi as being trusted by ‘the amir’ – Osama bin Laden – for key duties including on the ‘information team’ and leading a ‘military section’. His role included leading ‘the lions that came from far away [ie European militants] with the end of preparing them to transform the tranquility of the crusaders into a hell’.
By 2004 Azizi was believed to be back in Pakistan’s tribal regions, where he died alongside Hamza Rabia and his wife Raquel Burgos García in December 2005. According to reports, at the time he and Rabia were preparing operatives for a Madrid-style strike in the US.
Sources and Citations
Spanish intelligence officials (Interviu); reports (Family Security Matters)