Fifteen years on from the Madrid bombings, where are the perpetrators?

Three inmates who were involved in the 2004 train attacks have been given better conditions in jail for good behavior, while five remain in the most restrictive prison regime

Some of the accused terrorists during the Supreme Court trial.
Some of the accused terrorists during the Supreme Court trial.EFE

Fifteen years after the 2004 Madrid terrorist attacks that killed 193 people and left around 1,700 injured, eight of the 18 men sentenced by the Spanish Supreme Court for the massacre remain in prison. Of this group, three have been given improved conditions thanks to good behavior, including Otman El Gnaoui, an actual perpetrator of the bombings, according to penitentiary sources. The other five remain in the most restrictive prison regime.

Bouharrat can enjoy up to 36 days of prison leave a year because he has served a quarter of his sentence

El Gnaoui, along with Jamal Zougam, was sentenced to 42,922 years in prison for being a direct perpetrator of the massacre, and was not expected to be released until March 19, 2044. El Gnaoui was sent to a prison in A Lama in Pontevedra in northwestern Spain, and classified in Grade 1 – otherwise known as the closed prison regime – the most restrictive level reserved for “extremely dangerous” inmates or those who are unable to adjust to prison life. This classification, which is given to most inmates sentenced on terrorism charges, means they cannot request parole and enjoy fewer recreational hours in the outdoor area than other prisoners.

But these measures have been softened for El Gnaoui, with the application of Article 100.2 of the prison system, according to penitentiary sources. El Gnaoui is now allowed more time in the recreational area and has been given a cell in module 12 of the prison, where Grade 2 inmates are held. Penitentiary sources have told EL PAÍS that this decision was made because El Gnaoui has shown “good behavior” since he entered prison.

Two other inmates charged for their involvement in the bombings – which targeted commuter trains headed for Madrid’s central Atocha station – have also improved their prison conditions due to good behavior. Mohamed Bouharrat, who was sentenced to 12 years, was classified as a Grade 2 prisoner in 2012. Under this classification, Bouharrat can enjoy up to 36 days of prison leave a year because he has served a quarter of his sentence.

The prison authority, however, has not granted the inmate parole up until now. Bouharrat, who is expected to be released on October 30, 2022, is in a cell in module 3, which holds inmates who have been given jobs within prison because of their good behavior. In Bouharrat’s case, he will be in charge of the sporting center at the penitentiary. Prison sources say that in all the years he has been at the center, he has never once been disciplined.

Otman El Gnaoui and Jamal Zougam were both sentenced to 42,922 years in prison

A third inmate, Antonio Toro Castro, has been able to request parole for several years now. The brother-in-law of José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, the former miner who provided the terrorist with explosives, Toro was sentenced to four years by the Supreme Court. He has served this sentence but remains in prison after accumulating another 18 years of prison time for drug trafficking and possession of explosives in other cases. He is not expected to be released until March 30, 2022.

Toro is being kept in a cell in the so-called “respect module” for non-confrontational inmates who agree to peacefully live side by side one another. Penitentiary sources say he takes part in training courses given at the prison.

Grade 1 prisoners

The remaining five inmates charged for the train bombings are classified as Grade 1 and are being kept in maximum security conditions.

Hassan El Haski, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison, is being held in Albocàsser prison in Castellón, in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia. He was set to be released this year on June 2 but was accused of belonging to a radicalization network, which was dismantled by the Spanish Civil Guard in October.

Jamal Zougam is also being investigated for belonging to the same network. The perpetrator of the Madrid attack is being held in a prison in Teixeiro in A Coruña in the west of Spain. Like El Gnaoui, he was sentenced to 42,922 years in prison.

Abdelmajid Bouchar, nicknamed by the police as “El Gamo” (The Buck) after he tried to escape an earlier arrest, is being detained at the same prison. Bouchar was sentenced to 18 years in prison and is not expected to be released until September 12, 2023.

Rachid Aglif received the same sentence, and is serving his time at the Albocàsser Penitentiary Center. His release date is set for Abril 1, 2022.

Lastly, José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, who was sentenced to 34,725 years in prison for providing the explosives for the deadly attack, remains behind bars at La Moraleja prison in Dueñas in Palencia. He was transferred to the center in northwestern Spain at the end of 2018, after threatening a prison worker. The former miner had been classified as Grade 2 and had even met with survivors of the attack to ask for forgiveness. But since the incident involving the worker, he has once again been placed under the most restrictive prison regime.

Suicide bombing

Four of the terrorists involved in the Atocha bombings committed suicide on April 3, 2004. Cornered by the authorities, the men detonated explosives inside an apartment in the Madrid satellite town of Leganés. A police officer was also killed in the blast, and several other officers were wounded.

Radicalization in Spanish prisons

According to prison authorities, there are 139 individuals behind bars for jihadist terrorism. This is three times as many as in 2012. And then there are the petty criminals who are becoming radicalized. The Interior Ministry has identified 49 inmates who are in this category and who additionally perform recruitment work, and another 81 who show signs of harboring increasingly radical ideas.

In the last six months, the Civil Guard and National Police have broken up two networks that were operating inside Spanish prisons, where their job was to radicalize Muslim prisoners in jail for ordinary crimes. The latest raid, conducted in February, brought down a network inside Madrid's Valdemoro penitentiary, where the ringleader Suleimán E. M. was offering between €500,000 and €1 million to any prisoner willing to commit suicide attacks after their release from prison. It is the same amount that ISIS gives the families of terrorists who commit suicide in Syria. The funds come from international drug trafficking, according to the investigation.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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