“Scrutiny Falls on a Spanish Mosque After Foiled Train Attack,” by Raphael Minder, New York Times, August 27, 2015:
ALGECIRAS, Spain — Before he boarded a Paris-bound train last week, armed with an assault rifle and the intent, the authorities say, to carry out a blood bath, Ayoub El Khazzani had spent the final chapter of his troubled time in Spain in this gritty port city, living in a run-down apartment block with his parents within walking distance of the local mosque.
The mosque, Taqwa, was under police surveillance from the first day work started on turning what had been an auto repair shop into a place of worship, Nordi Mohamed Ahmed, vice president of the association that runs the mosque, acknowledged in an interview.
But while the authorities point to the mosque as a crucial part of Mr. Khazzani’s transformation from onetime petty hashish dealer to someone suspected of being a radical, Mr. Mohamed Ahmed said the preaching here was not to blame.
“Women are also allowed to pray here,” he said, “which certainly wouldn’t happen if this was a radical place.”
Still, Mr. Khazzani’s association with the mosque, where his father helped with the refurbishment and remains the caretaker, and where his brother once served as treasurer, was apparently enough to persuade the Spanish authorities to place him under surveillance, too.
His arrest after he was overpowered by passengers, including two vacationing American service members and their friend, has put further — and for those here, unwelcome — scrutiny on the mosque. It has also underscored the Spanish authorities’ intensive surveillance of a quickly multiplying number of potential threats, as in a growing number of other European Union countries, while exposing gaps in the intelligence sharing among them.
The Spanish intelligence services informed their French counterparts that Mr. Khazzani, 25, who holds a Moroccan passport and a Spanish residency card, was a potential threat in February 2014, as he was leaving Algeciras for France. It did little, though, to stall his plan to carry out what President François Hollande of France said would have been “a massacre.”…
Even if Mr. Khazzani played no official role in the Taqwa mosque, he is remembered by friends here not only as devout, but also determined to stay clear of the hashish trafficking around Algeciras, a city of about 117,000 residents that is the main transit port between Spain and Morocco….
Mr. Khazzani’s apparent effort to straighten out his path, however, led to his increasing association with the Taqwa mosque, which François Molins, the chief Paris prosecutor, described at a news conference Tuesday as one “known for its radical preaching.”
It was also one clearly on the radar of Spain’s intelligence services. Since March 2004, when Madrid’s Atocha station was the target of train bombings linked to Al Qaeda that killed almost 200 people, the authorities here have been extra vigilant.
Since then, the Spanish police have carried out about 130 raids, detaining some 575 people linked to Islamic extremism. A few raids have been coordinated with the Moroccan police, the latest one on Tuesday in which 14 people were arrested, accused of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State….
Mr. Mohamed Ahmed, the vice president of the Taqwa mosque association, acknowledged that the mosque had undergone a management change in 2013 “to make it more transparent and liberal.” But he rejected the idea that it ever spread extremism.
Rather than radicalism, he argued, “the problem is that there isn’t unity in the Muslim community” of Algeciras. Asked about Mr. Khazzani, he said that “he wasn’t here long enough to claim you really know a person.”…