On the trail of Raquel

A Spanish woman who married a jihadist was injured by a drone attack Missing for 10 years, she is thought to be living with Al Qaeda leaders

Raquel Burgos's passport and various photographs of the Spaniard found in Waziristan in 2009.
Raquel Burgos's passport and various photographs of the Spaniard found in Waziristan in 2009.EFE

The trail of Raquel Burgos García, a 38-year-old woman from Madrid who converted to Islam and married a Moroccan jihadist with links to Al Qaeda, is very hard to follow. It goes cold in the mountains of Waziristan, a tribal area in Pakistan.

Raquel's father has no clue as to her whereabouts, and has not heard from her for more than a decade. Nor do the Western intelligence services know where she is, despite the fact that they consider her to be of huge interest due to the fact that she was married to Amer el Azizi — a Moroccan who lived in Madrid and was linked to the March 11 terrorist attacks — and to Abu Hamza Rabia, who was the head of Al Qaeda's operations for many years.

El Azizi and Rabia were killed in a US drone attack on December 1, 2005 in Asoray, a village close to Miran Shah, which is the administrative capital of North Waziristan, next to the Afghan border. News of the death of the man thought to be behind Al Qaeda attacks in the West was immediately released, but nothing was revealed about the identities of the people with him at the time of the missile attack. Four years later, in 2009, a number of jihadist webpages admitted that El Azizi, Raquel's husband, was also killed. Images of his body were shown in what was both a propaganda exercise and a posthumous tribute to "Otman al Andalusi," as El Azizi was widely known.

But the location of Hanane - which means "cloud" in Arabic, and is the name adopted by Raquel Burgos when she converted to Islam - is still shrouded in mystery. Confidential police reports, to which EL PAÍS has had access, suggest that the Madrileña was wounded in the attack that killed her husband. "The Interior [Ministry] attaché in the Spanish Embassy in Islamabad interviewed [...] who declared that Raquel is alive and is recovering in a hospital in North Waziristan from the injuries she sustained from a Predator [drone]," says one of the confidential reports.

We don't know when she arrived, nor how long she was in Pakistan"

Information from Spanish police in Pakistan suggests that Raquel survived the drone attack and was taken to Kanigoram in South Waziristan, a stronghold for Pashtuns linked to Al Qaeda. In this territory - which was controlled by Taliban chief Amir Baitullah Mehsud until his death in another drone strike - Raquel has found refuge and safety. "We are monitoring to see if she turns up elsewhere. The last trail points to Kanigoram," explains one of the heads of Spain's antiterrorism authorities.

In the same area, in Sherwangai, another trace of Raquel appeared in November 2009. Among the rubble of a property attacked by the Pakistani army, soldiers discovered the passports of Raquel and Said Bahaji. The latter is one of the members of the terrorist cell that organized the 9/11 attacks, and a committed jihadist who shared an apartment in Hamburg, Germany with Mohammed Atta, the head of the September 11 suicide bombers. Bahaji did not fly in the hijacked planes that day, given that he was refused entry to the United States ahead of the attacks. The November 2009 discovery was yet more proof that the Spaniard and her husband had links with the Al Qaeda leadership.

"We don't know when she arrived, nor how long she was in Pakistan," explained Pakistani army spokesman Athar Abbas at the time. Raquel has not renewed her Spanish national identity card or her passport since they expired in 2003.

Her father, Juan Francisco Burgos, is the former owner of El Junqueral, a well-known seafood restaurant located in Madrid's Alcalá street. He says he has no knowledge of her whereabouts, and is unable to contain his sadness. "I haven't heard from her for many years," he says. "Nor has anyone from the government told me how she is."

Raquel did not attend the funeral of her mother, Henar, in 2009. Her family lost track of her when she left Madrid in the summer of 2002, along with her three children. She headed for Morocco, where she was helped by Mustapha Maymouny, a friend of her husband who was implicated in the Casablanca bombings.

The Burgos family accepted that their only daughter, who studied IT and Hispanic studies at Madrid's Complutense University, had converted to Islam, wore a black niqab and married Amer, a Moroccan translator who spoke perfect Spanish.

She said that she had found her path. I'm not so surprised; she is adventurous"

Raquel's parents gave her and her husband the use of an apartment they owned, which was located on the ground floor of a building in Buen Gobernador street, near Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. They also gave them 300 euros a month, "because he didn't work," her father explains. "She looked like she was being controlled, but she never complained," explains a neighbor.

One of her classmates from the María Inmaculada Catholic school remembers the day that they bumped into each other in the Madrid neighborhood of Malasaña. "We couldn't believe it when she told us that she had converted to Islam," she explains.

"She said that she had found her path. She seemed happy. Coming from Raquel I can't say that I was too surprised; she was very adventurous. She was the most intelligent member of our class. [...] We liked to read and we did theater together."

In her police files, there are a number of photos of Raquel walking through the streets of Madrid, wearing her niqab. She is pictured alone, with her children and with her husband in the photos, which were obtained during a surveillance operation that began in 1995, when the few officers who were investigating jihadist terrorism in Spain at the time turned their focus on the young woman.

At that time Azizi was part of a cell run by Imad Eddin Barakat, who was better known as "Abu Dahdah" and dedicated his time to recruiting mujahideen and sending them to Bosnia and Chechnya to wage jihad.

He had been trained in the camps run by Bin Laden in Afghanistan, something that impressed those who listened to him talk of his achievements in the Alhambra bar in the neighborhood of Lavapiés, a meeting point for Jamal Zougam and other figures who were behind the March 11 train bombings, in which 191 people were killed.

Raquel is a determined woman. Another friend remembers that while still at school she decided to lose weight, and ended up stick-thin. "When she gets an idea in her head she follows through with it," she explains. For more than a decade now she has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. And for more than a decade, it seems, she has taken refuge in Waziristan, the organization's main hideout.

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