US hunts in Portugal

Officers from the Portuguese Secret Services (SIS) are investigating a possible terrorist cell that they believe could have infiltrated the country following the Madrid bomb attacks. SIS agents are believed to be monitoring the activities of suspects from the country’s Islamic community. The fact that Portugal is considered an easy target because of its relative relaxed security forces is causing particular concern to the authorities.

It has emerged that the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) were contacted by American secret service agents in the days immediately following the attacks in the Spanish capital, which killed 201 people. The American authorities had questions about the whereabouts of certain suspects, who they believed might be in Portugal. This information, leaked to a Portuguese newspaper by a member of the PJ in Porto, also highlights the fact that this is not the first time that there has been contact between America and Portugal. Apparently, US agents first made enquiries to the Portuguese authorities after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

At that time the American secret service had questions about several North-Africans and one Arabic man, who the PJ tracked in the weeks following the US attacks. One particular trail revolved around an Arabic individual who arrived at a pousada in the Douro region with a suitcase full of money. PJ officers knew the man concerned, monitored his activities and followed him down to the Algarve.

The suspect, in spite of having been interrogated, ended up travelling to Spain, a fact transmitted to the Spanish police authorities. The identity of the man was also conveyed to the Americans, who were unable to pin any suspicious activities on him.

In the most recent contact, the American secret services requested information about certain people believed to have been in Portugal for two years. “After what happened in Madrid, we were contacted to supply information about the whereabouts of these individuals,” added the source.

According to a report on Portuguese channel TVi, one of the detainees currently being questioned over the Madrid bombings may have married a Portuguese woman, leading PJ officers to investigate weddings abroad between Arabic men and Portuguese women.

The report claimed that Arab citizens based in England were seeking out Portuguese women to marry, thereby enabling the Arabs in question to travel freely within the European Union. There are three known cases of Portuguese women going to London in order to marry citizens of Arab origin and then returning to Portugal alone. It is believed they received about 2,500 euros for the ceremony. The PJ has not discounted the possibility that the real motive for the marriages is to facilitate acts of terrorism within EU countries. One of the women concerned even married an Arab man in someone else’s name, falsifying her signature. A police profile of the women chosen indicates that they generally come from a poor background and have a low level of education. The authorities are powerless to intervene in either the weddings, or the falsification of signatures, because the marriages take place outside Portuguese territory.

In a separate development, officers from the Judicial Police are analysing tapes and written material found in a rubbish bin in Fão, near Braga. “In total, there were two booklets, wrapped in green paper with Arab lettering, like those from the Koran. They looked like some of the books exhibited on television, found after the ruins of the explosions in Spain,” noted José Maria Machado, a writer and historical investigator, who found the material when he was dropping his domestic rubbish into a dustbin near his home. Machado explained that his interest in the subject led him to sift through the materials carefully. He eventually decided to hand the material over to the Judicial Police.

Portugal “ill prepared

for Euro 2004”

Meanwhile, the Portuguese police, attending a conference in Porto, have expressed concern about inadequate security measures in the run-up to Euro 2004. About 400 professional officers from the Union of Professional Police (ASPP/PSP) attended the conference. Alberto Torres, president of that body’s national commission, criticised the lack of resources at his disposal. “We are only 85 days from the beginning of the championship and we still don’t know where some of the equipment and manpower will come from,” he said.

The event was also attended by Gérard Greneron, the General Secretary of the European Council of Police Unions, and members of the EU police force involved in the last European football tournaments in Holland and Belgium. Greneron, who represents 280,000 policemen from 18 countries, commented: “Portuguese police are badly prepared and equipped for the Euro tournament. I have detected a shortage of personnel and inadequate resources for this type of event. Everyone is talking about terrorism, but it would be much better if officials concerned themselves more with the potential threat from hooliganism.”