Fighters from Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, December 2012.
By Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica
MADRID — Rachid Wahbi came to Syria from a Spanish slum, rushing toward death.
And he didn't plan to die alone.
Facing a camera hours before the end, the bearded, 33-year-old cabdriver wore a black headdress and a black flak vest and held an AK-47 rifle. He spoke in hesitant classical Arabic with a north Moroccan accent. He said he had studied his target and, God willing, his action would end in triumph. He wished the glory of martyrdom for his fellow fighters in the al-Nusrah Front, al-Qaida's Syrian branch.
When the cameraman asked about his mother, the Spaniard became emotional.
"I want to thank my mother because she inspired me," Wahbi said, according to a translation by the Spanish national police. "Mother, you must be happy because God will reward you."
The al-Nusrah propaganda video shows Wahbi disguised in the helmet and uniform of a Syrian soldier as he hugs a comrade and climbs into a truck packed with explosives. The truck bears down on an army outpost. An explosion thunders. A column of smoke, seen from multiple camera angles, climbs toward the sky.
Wahbi killed 130 people in that suicide bombing on the al-Nairab military base in northern Syria on June 1 of last year, according to Spanish authorities. And the numbers get grimmer.
Five holy warriors from Spain have died in Syria, three in bombings that killed another 100 people, police say. Last month, Spanish police stormed the hillside ghetto where Wahbi lived in Ceuta, a Spanish territory in North Africa, and arrested a ring of extremists who are charged with sending as many as 50 fighters to Syria. Indicating a threat much closer to home, the accused leader had previously been acquitted of plotting attacks on targets in Spain with a group linked to al-Qaida and a former Guantanamo inmate.
"The global jihad has prioritized the Syrian conflict as its principal front," said a top Spanish intelligence official who requested anonymity because of the continuing investigation. "And it has directed its subsidiaries to move combatants to the zone. What worries us is that this experience could serve as preparation, as training to return to European countries and carry out attacks at home."