Friday, March 12, 2004

More on the Spanish Terrorist Attacks

Just as I suspected, the evidence emerging from the bombings appears to implicate ETA as well as Al-Qaeda.

The flood of conflicting evidence and clues that emerged from the carnage of the Madrid bombings yesterday pointed in two very different directions, leaving counterterrorism officials in a country painfully familiar with terrorist violence struggling to identify a culprit.

Just hours after the bombings, the Spanish authorities blamed the Basque separatist group known as ETA. Hours later, the same officials announced the discovery of new evidence they said left open the possibility that Islamic militants had been involved.

"Could it have been Islamic fundamentalists?" one senior Spanish antiterrorism official asked last night. "It could have been. Spain is clearly a target of Al Qaeda; Osama bin Laden has said so himself."

The scale of the violence, the indiscriminate nature of the killing and the near-simultaneity of the 10 bombings yesterday were all reminiscent of Al Qaeda. In addition, the Spanish interior minister said the police had found detonators and an audio tape of Koranic verses inside a stolen van that was parked near the station where three of the four bombed trains originated.

In an indication of concern that the violence might not be limited to Spain, France raised its national terrorism alert from the lowest level. A senior French security official said in the days before the Madrid bombings that they had indications of possible terrorist attacks on railways in France and other European nations.

Yet in the chaotic aftermath of the bombings, antiterrorism officials cautioned that other evidence seemed to implicate ETA.

One Spanish official who spoke on the condition he not be identified said the dynamite-like explosive used in the attacks had often been used by ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom.

Most recently, the official said, the police found a similar explosive, titadine, in a vehicle they intercepted last month as it was driven to Madrid by ETA militants. The police also found explosive-laden backpacks like those used in yesterday's attacks when they foiled a bombing at a Madrid train station on Christmas Eve, an event they linked to ETA.

Yesterday's bombings also came after months of intelligence reporting that ETA was planning a major attack, several Spanish officials said. The timing of the violence — with national elections scheduled for Sunday — seemed to suggest ETA's hand as well, they said.
(emphasis added)

It's still too soon to say for sure one way or another, but I think it highly likely that if Al-Qaeda really was implicated in this attack, it was only through the assistance of ETA's operatives. The "evidence" for an Al-Qaeda attack was just too conveniently close at hand for me to buy into this as plain-old Islamic terrorism - I suspect that this is precisely what ETA would like everyone to believe. Does anyone remember when the conventional wisdom was that the anthrax attacks after September 11 had to have been the work of Islamic terrorists?