MADRID — A raid late Saturday in which four suspected terrorists died is a probable turning point in the investigation of the March 11 Madrid bombing attacks.
A full-blown police assault on an apartment in the Madrid suburb of Leganés ended as the men detonated bombs, killing themselves and one Spanish special operations officer. The raid came on the heels of a week of intense work to locate the coordinators of the attack.
Two of the men killed, Serhane Bin Abdelmajid Farkhet and Abdenaji Koojaa, were members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, and international warrants had been issued for their arrest. An international warrant had not been issued for the third man, the Moroccan Asri Rifaat Anour, because intelligence suggested he was in Spain. The remains of the fourth person, believed to be the one who detonated the bomb, had not yet been identified as of this writing.
The judge in charge of the case, Juan del Olmo, has fingered Mr. Bin Abdelmajid, a Tunisian, as the possible "brain" behind the March 11 bombings.
"We believe we have found the nucleus of the cell that was responsible for the attacks," said Ricardo Ibañez, subdirector of Communications for the Ministry of the Interior.
The raid represents an important step forward not only in the investigation, sources say, but in the fight against terrorism within Spain. Among the artifacts found in the apartment where the explosion took place were 22 pounds of Goma 2 - the same explosive used in the Madrid bombings - and 200 copper detonators.
In a press conference Sunday, Angel Acebes, minister of the interior, said that the presumed terrorists were preparing to commit imminent new attacks, using the same methods that they had employed on March 11.
A week ago Saturday, police identified a house in Morata de Tajuña, outside Madrid, where the bombs used in the attacks had been prepared. Thursday, the names and photos of the six top suspects still at large were released to the press. And on Friday, another bomb, incomplete but containing the same explosive and detonators used on March 11, was discovered along the tracks of the high-speed rail that runs between Madrid and Seville.
After receiving a tip that one possible suspect was living in an apartment in Leganés, police surrounded the building on Saturday evening. When the men inside the apartment began shooting at the police and "shouting phrases in Arabic," according to Mr. Ibañez, the police evacuated residents in that building and neighboring ones. After attempts to negotiate with the men were rejected, the police entered the building. The explosives went off immediately.
Mr. Acebes praised the police and special forces for their "brilliant work." Although sources within the Ministry of Interior have not wanted to identify the origins of the intelligence that led them to the apartment in Leganés, Ibañez noted that it came, "in a very high percentage from internal sources."
Florentin Portero, secretary of the Madrid-based Group for Strategic Studies pointed out that Madrid's citizens were also to be commended. "The police didn't pick up this trail," he noted, "until a private citizen, a security guard, recognized one of the suspects on TV."
Though in many ways, life has returned to normal - trains and buses were packed this weekend as the Holy Week vacation began - Spaniards are increasingly alert to terrorist threats.
Friday, passengers forced onto buses because of the bomb scare on the high-speed rail expressed distress, saying that their usual travel routes were no longer safe. And Saturday, authorities shut down a train station in Ciudad Real when they discovered an unaccompanied backpack in a passageway near the boarding platform.
Despite Saturday's success, officials were cautious about their progress in fighting the terror threat. Ibañez noted that several people on the list of suspects were still at large, and that these men were "very dangerous."
Mr. Portero echoed his sentiments. "In the short term, we have achieved a great success in the fight against a concrete cell and a concrete terrorist group," he said. "But in the long term, everything is going to be exactly the same because these cells can regroup very easily."