Eta Massacre in Madrid

It is still too early to be able to count the toll with any accuracy. The link I post below speaks of 50 dead, others speak of more, and others less. Let us only hope the lower estimates are the accurate ones!

(Update 15 minutes after first post: the official death toll has now risen to 72 according to Ministry of the Interior figures just released on TV. Of course this is still far from definitive. I have been watching the live images on TV and they are among the most horrendous I have seen. I don’t know if the statistics will bear me out, but I have the feeling that this is the worst ever incident of its kind in the history of Spanish terrorism. The previous ‘low’ in this context was the Hypercor hypermarket bombing here in Barcelona – 1987, with 21 fatal victims. The wounded are being attended lying on blankets in the Atocha station in Madrid. Blood is everywhere, and the victims are a total cross-section of Spanish society: from executives to recently arrived illegal immigrants).

(Second Update: 11:44 CET: Spanish TV have just quoted Interior Ministry sources giving a figure of 131 dead. Words ecsapeme, and I fear it may get worse. The number of seriously injured also appears to be high).

I have no hesitation in attributing this heinous act to Eta. Official sources are, naturally, more circumspect. If time should prove me wrong I will, of course, on this as on so many other topics, gladly and willingly accept the fact. But for the time being: I have no doubt.

I have decided to post this immediately since I feel after my recent post on Spain and dialogue that it is behoven on me to say something. In fact I was preparing yet another of those euro related posts (this time on Volkswagen) when I went out to buy the family vegetables for the week. It was listening to the women with me in the shop (Spain is still a pretty traditional and ‘macho’ country in this sense unfortunately) that made me realise I had to make this post: to at least say something. I am aware that after so many years of this interminable killing the pure law of survival means that you tend to put a certain distance between yourself and the insanity of what surrounds you.

But what has happened today passes the bounds of even what one has become accustomed to. It reminds me so much of those dreadful Birmingham pub bombings in the UK in the mid 70′s. So whilst much could be said on the background to, and future implications of, this outrage: I will refrain. This is not the time or the place.

It is purely and simply the time and the place to condemn all such acts of terrorism as barbaric, and of lacking any kind of possible justification within the known frontiers of human reason. It is also the place to say that, inconsequential as this is, my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones, family or friends (or simply fellow citizens) as a result of this appauling crime against humanity.

Spanish Terrorist Train Bombings Kill About 50 People in Madrid Three bomb attacks on trains full of morning commuters killed about 50 people in Madrid, Spanish television station TVE reported. Spain’s Red Cross said at least 200 people were injured.

Police said it was too early to say whether they suspect ETA, the Basque terrorist group that government and police officials say has been increasing terror attacks in the weeks leading up to Spain’s general election on Sunday.

Three bombs went off between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. near three train stations, a National Police spokeswoman said. The stations were El Pozo, Santa Eugenia, and Atocha, which is Madrid’s main hub serving southern cities.

“It was horrendous,” said a woman who was on one train, speaking to government-run TVE television news. “There was the explosion and then people started to run full of blood.”

Television showed images of dozens of victims with heads or arms bandaged, limping and clinging on to rescue workers. The camera showed one train car ripped in half.

Some of the train cars destroyed were on the line connecting Guadalajara, northeast of Madrid, to the capital city.

An Interior Ministry spokesman made no immediate comment.

ETA, which has killed more than 830 people in its campaign for Basque independence, planned to bomb electricity towers to disrupt the wedding of Spanish Prince Felipe to Letizia Ortiz, a former television news presenter, La Vanguardia reported last week, citing unidentified court officials.

Spanish police averted a bomb attack by ETA, stopping a truck carrying explosives on the way to the capital almost two weeks ago, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Spain’s Interior Minister Angel Acebes.

In December Spanish anti-terrorism police arrested people trying to bomb trains on Christmas Eve, they said in December.
Source: Bloomberg
LINK

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

31 thoughts on “Eta Massacre in Madrid

  1. I blame by own ignorance, but this came completely out of the blue for me. What a shocker.

    “It reminds me so much of those dreadful Birmingham pub bombings in the UK in the mid 70′s. So whilst much could be said on the background to, and future implications of, this outrage: I will refrain. ”

    When the time is right I’d like to hear more. I’m unable to say much about the awful event itself, beyond what Edward wrote. But I’m left wondering if, barring a resurgence of the Real IRA, ETA is truly Europe’s last homegrown terrorist group. I frankly ignorant of much of ETA’s history and (twisted) ideology.

  2. Dear Edward,

    Believe me I am really sorry this happened. I don’t know what to say. It looks to me like a blend of nihilism and really savage cynicism.

  3. The fact that there were three (?) simultaneous bombs leads me to think that it might be Al-Quaida, but AQ tend to also go for symbolic targets, and this does not appear to be the case.

  4. According to Reuters:

    “A radical Basque nationalist leader says he does not believe ETA was responsible for a series of blasts at Madrid railway stations that killed at least 131 people.

    Speaking on Radio Popular in the Basque country, Arnaldo Otegi, leader of banned radical political party Batasuna, said on Thursday he did not believe “even as a hypothesis” that ETA was responsible for the attacks in Madrid.

    He said the attacks could have been “an operation by sectors of the Arab resistance”.”

    Link: http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=473853&section=news

    Could this be Al Qaida, as Factory suggested? It certainly seems plausible…

  5. “The fact that there were three (?) simultaneous bombs leads me to think that it might be Al-Quaida”

    Of course one should not rule out any possibility, but all the indications point to Eta. After the earlier ‘truce’ declaration everyone was expecting something this week. The whole of Spanish society was on full alert.

    I think there is plenty to say about what lies behind all this, but today may not be the day. Obviously Sunday’s elections are going to be dominated now by the shadow of this.

    James,

    Thanks for the condolences, but I think your sympathies really should go out to the Spanish people, and in particular to the people of Madrid. I like all the rest of you find myself relegated to a ‘mere spectator’ in these tragic circumstances.

    “like a blend of nihilism and really savage cynicism.”

    You got it. Absolutely. But don’t forget that there is a party – now illegal – in the Basque country capable of mobilising tens of thousands of voters in support of the ‘armed struggle’. Of course no-one is going to surface publicly to defend a monstrosity like this.

  6. “Speaking on Radio Popular in the Basque country, Arnaldo Otegi, leader of banned radical political party Batasuna, said on Thursday he did not believe “even as a hypothesis” that ETA was responsible for the attacks in Madrid.”

    Careful Talos, we shouldn’t fall into the same error that Aznar made recently and trust in the official version of those who support Eta. I certainly wouldn’t trust Otegi. My instincts are still this is Eta. But time will of course tell. I agree I could be wrong, but I am sticking to my guns.

  7. “Arnaldo Otegi, leader of banned radical political party Batasuna, said on Thursday he did not believe “even as a hypothesis”"

    One very important detail I forgot: would Otegi like to explain to us what his source is for this “not even hypothesis”. Talk about self-incrimination!

  8. Edward:
    ETA seems the probable culprit, but there’s something about the scale of this atrocity that says “Al Qaida”… Either that or the crimially insane leaders of ETA have managed to reach a whole new plateau of murderousness… This reminds me of nothing so much as the Bologna train station massacre of the ’70s…

    Horrendous, absolutely horrendous.

  9. I agree that we should not be over-hasty in assuming this was the work of ETA, but like Edward, I find I cannot but have very strong suspicions in that direction.

    In a sense, though, it doesn’t much matter whether this was ETA or Qaeda. I would hope that if the Spanish state can determine who was responsible, it will go after the relevant organisation (and any of its ‘political’ mouthpieces) with all the force consistent with the rule of law. It would be a pity if the Spanish government showed the same weakness shown by the Irish and (yes) British governments in dealing with the IRA.

    One good thing may come out of this. In Euzkadi as in Ireland, there are a lot of ‘sneaking regarders’ outside the circle of true believers on whose existence the terrorists in some degree rely in order to operate. These people are quick to join in the ritual condemnations after an attack, but take some satisfaction for all that when the terrorists hit the ‘right’ sort of target. But when the IRA have taken steps that meet with very general revulsion (e.g., the murder of Det. Garda McCabe or – though this was the work of a ‘splinter’ group – the atrocity at Omagh), their penumbral support faded dramatically. I expect the vast majority of Basques will join with other Spaniards in revulsion at this outrage, and if it was indeed down to ETA, I hope that will make it much harder for them to operate.

  10. Just listening to the latest news and the current toll is estimated at 173, which is the worst for an incident of its type anywhere in Europe, I believe.

    There is a lot of speculation about Al-Qaeda involvement, but the Spanish Government are quite adamant in saying they believe it to be ETA, though there is also speculation that it may be a ‘Real IRA’-type splinter group.

    I’ll add links to more reports to the sidebar.

  11. Any reason to think that ETA is not capable of picking up tips from A-Q and setting off simultaneous bombs?

    I mean, the difficult part of the puzzle is getting or making explosives. Coordinating them to go off at about the same doesn’t seem significantly harder.

    More on this tomorrow. For now, hopes that the toll does not rise much further and that soft support for ETA quickly vanishes.

  12. Doug – that’s definitely one possible explanation. The radio’s currently talking about Semtex being used, which is a hallmark of ETA. One other suggestion I’ve read (and I can’t recall where) is that ETA now has a more radicalised leadership and a much more devolved cell structure and this could be an example of a new mindset, in the same way as the Omagh bombing was for the Real IRA.

  13. “I expect the vast majority of Basques will join with other Spaniards in revulsion at this outrage, and if it was indeed down to ETA, I hope that will make it much harder for them to operate.”

    “For now, hopes ………that soft support for ETA quickly vanishes.”

    I’m sorry, I wouldn’t hold out too many hopes on this front. What is called ‘soft’ support isn’t too soft.

    After 30 years of this, don’t expect things to change quickly. The population of the Pais Basco is pretty much divided 60-40 between those who feel Basque and those who feel Spanish, this division has even grown larger during the last 8 years. There would be a remote possibility that these deaths bring the two parties together, but I don’t see it.

    Part of the question will turn on whether the rhetoric in Madrid confines its rage for Eta, or extends itself to Basque nationalism (peaceful included) in general. In the event of the latter, the divide will only grow.

    So what I am saying is that the majority of the people who ‘feel’ Basque will condemn this (including possibly Otegi) but will continue to demand their referendum on independence.

    It is because I can see how complicated all this is, and will continue to be, that I can’t believe in any ‘easy’ democratic solution in Iraq.

  14. “It is absolutely clear that the terrorist organisation ETA was seeking an attack with wide repercussions,” Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a hastily called news conference, dismissing speculation that any other group could be involved. (via Reuters)

    This is a terrible day for Spain, Europe and anyone who believes in the fundaments of civilization. My condolences to the victims.

  15. “Either that or the crimially insane leaders of ETA have managed to reach a whole new plateau of murderousness…”

    This is what I believe. I think the prima facie evidence is strong.

    They have already had two different groups of people arrested with explosives on the way to Madrid in the last month – one of them on a train headed for a station in Madrid.

    Secondly they seem to have a motive: they want to guarantee a PP government is returned in the elections on Sunday. The affair ‘Carrod Rovira’ really only allows that interpretation.

    If there were another (eg Al Quaeda) terrorist connection this would immediately have pan-European and even global implications. I think we should start with the most probable hypothesis, and then only change our minds when the evidence leads us to do so. I don’t count declarations from Arnaldo Otegi as evidence of anything.

    “ETA now has a more radicalised leadership and a much more devolved cell structure and this could be an example of a new mindset.”

    I have the impression they have had both of these for some time. My feeling is that Aznar is right, that they have now an extremely limited capacity. Which is why they have gone for something desparate (this is only a guess of course).

    “though there is also speculation that it may be a ‘Real IRA’-type splinter group.”

    This type of thing is impossible to know. Since the Sinn Fein type party was illegalised (that is the party of Otegi) one of the important consequences is that with the formal apparatus also went public information. So it is hard to know.

    What follows now is a big guess:

    That what is known as Eta Militar is in a desparate situation since the majority of *radical* Basque nationalists (maybe 200,000 supporters) are now prepared to formally support an ‘end to the armed struggle’, and accept the offer of Basque President (moderate nationalist) Ibarretxe (who coincidentally is talking on TV right now) to hold a referendum on self determination. As I am indicating the opinion polls suggest that this referendum would give a result in favour of independence.

    So either: this Eta group are trying to sabotage this.

    Or: they are trying to so radicalise Spanish politics that the PP government whose election today’s events now seem make inevitable would find it impossible to negotiate a way out of confrontation with Ibarretxe.

    To be clear: this referendum will be illegal. The government in Madrid passed a specific law last year which would mean the Basque president would go to prison if he holds the referendum.

    So we have two possibilities:

    1/. Eta wanted to torpedo the referendum, by causing so many deaths that a ‘peace process’ would be impossible in the foreseeable future.

    or 2/. They want the referendum and they want Ibarretxe in prison.

    This second possibility would lead us to Mr Carrod Rovira and all the recent fuss. If Ibarretxe were imprisoned it would be difficult to see how the Catalan government could avoid demands for holding a self-determination referendum here. In other words Spain could become ‘ungovernable’. Possibly none of this will happen, but this doesn’t stop it being Eta’s objective.

    Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that those who you completely oppose are stupid.

  16. Horrifying, simply horrifying. While this is not the ideal forum, allow me to express my condolences to the Spanish people and the families of the victims.

    Bernard Guerrero

  17. I’m afraid I know more about the Basque language than about Basque nationalism, so I don’t have much to offer in terms of speculation about the authors and motivations. However, I wouldn’t rule out an action of more Near Eastern origin. Spain was one of the more visible nations behind the US in Iraq, and it’s one with a relatively large and fairly disaffected Arab population. And, I suppose someone in Al Qaeda might be starting to fear a Democratic victory in November.

    Of course, Aznar has already ruled out talking with ETA, citing this bombing as the cause, even though ETA is not yet more than presumed guilty.

    I suppose this may be like the USS Maine, with some National Geographic team trying to work it all out a century from now.

  18. “Aznar has already ruled out talking with ETA, citing this bombing as the cause”

    No, Aznar, from the first day he was elected never ruled it in. The Gonzalez government did maintain contacts, but Aznar has always been dead set against any attempt to talk: not negotiate notice, just to talk. This is the principal cause of the deterioration in relations over the years with the Basque regional government in Vittoria. They have been working right through to try and talk a settlement where Eta took a decision like the Ira has done in Ireland. The last attempt foundered but seemed only to centre on the regroupment of prisoners.

    Again the moderate nationalists are not offering a vote on independence as an olive branch in negotiations, since they want to have one anyway.The only thing really stopping them is the existence of Eta and all the surrounding terrorist violence.

    “However, I wouldn’t rule out an action of more Near Eastern origin”.

    Frankly with the passing of time this seems less and less likely, the whole modus operandum is that of Eta. Even the down to the law of unintended consequences: accepting government accounts, the intention was to have one big explosion in the main station. Two of the trains should have coincided, but there was, fortunately a problem of trains not running on time. Of course this doesn’t make it any more or less the work of Eta, but they are (again fortunately) subject repeatedly to this kind of problem.

    Let’s put this another way: why wouldn’t it be Eta? They have the motive, they have the track record, and they have the opportunity.

    They are obsessed with Aznar. He is going on Sunday. This is their macabre farewell. I think it is difficult to imagine that anyone else would have the same kind of motive for an ‘act of defiance’ of this magnitude.

    Why would Al Quaeda, or anyone else, seek to participate in the Spanish elections in this way?

  19. As an American I had let the worrys about Middle Eastern terrorism totally overshadow the ETA–I had totally forgotten about it. This is awful. I can’t offer much, but my sympathies go to Spain.

  20. It’s moments like these that bring you face-to-face with the utter senseless, random injustice of the world. The people of Madrid are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met; to know that they have been subject to this atrocity is almost more than my heart can bear. Why must we live in a world like this?

  21. The word on MSNBC is that a van with detonators and a book with verses from the Koran has been found near the blast sites. More information might be found at the MSNBC web site.

    It’s starting to sound as if the attack was meant to hurt the Spanish, and drive a wedge between them and the Basque. Possibly leading to a civil war and the suppression of civil liberties.

    But, the discovery of the van and its contents will more likely rouse Spain to seek vengeance against the terrorists. Meaning an expanded effort by Spain, and likely an increased Spanish presence overseas in the various front in the war on terrorism.

    Such as, say, the expansion of the Spanish forces in Iraq to a full brigade. Or the offer of Spanish assistance to Morocco and Algeria in their wars against terrorists.

    Once again the Salafi have shown no understanding of the western mind.

  22. “The word on MSNBC is that a van with detonators and a book with verses from the Koran has been found near the blast sites.”

    This is true, and there has been a claim from an Al Quaeda group to be responsible. We should treat all this now with caution, and I need to guard my words more. I am not yet convinced that this isn’t Eta though. Now let’s wait and see how this evolves.

    There is so much here that doesn’t fit.

    “to hurt the Spanish, and drive a wedge between them and the Basque”

    That wedge was already there unfortunately. Fortunately I don’t see any likely consequence of civil war. Bad feeling surely, but civil war no.

    But at the moment the effort seems to be to direct the attention to Al Quaeda, rather than an Al Quaeda group trying to blame Eta. This is what makes me a litlle suspicious.

  23. If it was al Queda, Atocha seems like an odd target for them to pick. You’d think they’d target something with more symbolic resonance, like the Prado, or Plaza de Cibeles.

  24. Randy,

    Seems possible, doesn’t it? If you’re short on either human or physical capital, you find yourself a partner with the missing pieces.

    I seem to recall some evidence of IRA/FARC cooperation with regards to training & equipment in the past, I don’t see why this would be any more unlikely. Anybody who does, please feel free to poke a hole in it…

    Bernard Guerrero

  25. Bernard – there was a mention earlier on News 24 that, in the past, ETA terrorists were known to have done some training in the Bekaa Valley (sp?) in Lebanon with groups active there. Collaboration is a definite, and frightening, possibility.

  26. Terrible news. An ETA-Al Qaeda cooperation is certainly not to be excluded. But on the other hand, the attack is terribly convenient for Aznar and his battle against terrorism, three days before the elections. Don’t forget 90% of the Spanish population was against the Iraq war. The connection Al Qaeda and ETA gives him the chance to justify the Iraq war and to fall down even more on ETA. Didn’t the Spanish interior minister suggest yesterday the Batasuna members of the Basque parliament should be arrested? One Basque representative in Brussels said on Flemish television it should not be excluded the Spanish secret service is behind the explosions. And let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be the first time something like this happens, even in a democratic country… In any case, I sympathize with the Madrilenes. Because, whoever did this, they are the innocent victims.

  27. The more I read the swirl of speculation the more my taste for speculation sours. Yesterday was one of the heaviest days of my life – so many of my friends could have been on one of those trains, my wife rode a Circenias train that morning. It seems that making this event about politics instead of people – real people with families – is it’s own small sort of terrorism.

  28. “It’s moments like these that bring you face-to-face with the utter senseless, random injustice of the world. The people of Madrid are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met; to know that they have been subject to this atrocity is almost more than my heart can bear. Why must we live in a world like this?”

    If they’re so nice why did they help invade Iraq? What goes around comes around…

  29. “If they’re so nice why did they help invade Iraq? What goes around comes around…”

    They didn’t… 92% of the Spanish public was against the war on Iraq, of which an unprecedented 10% of the population (at least) actively demonstrated against it, in the most massive anti-war participation of any European country. Let me repeat: with the possible exception of the Greeks (where opposition to the war hovered around 95%) the Spaniards were the Europeans most opposed to the war and their country’s involvement. They were by far the most active population in the world in opposing the war (and that includes the Arab world, where participation in demonstrations was smaller than in Spain).