Update: Friday morning 8:30 CET. The uncertainty about the authors of this crime continues. I think having been fairly forthright at the start, prudence on my part is now what is called for while the investigation continues. Meanwhile I think it is important we don’t lose sight of the magnitude of what has happened: 198 dead, and 1,430 injured according to the latest government figures. It is with the victims and their families that our first thoughts should go. I will post again if and when there is meaningful news, and in any event around 19.00 CET when the demonstrations will be assembling.
Now: Just to follow up on my Madrid bombing post. I have to recognise that the evidence is now more contradictory than it was this morning when I first posted. First we have the case of the van with the tape: the van in fact contained seven detonators and a tape in Arabic. The Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said the tape had recordings of verses from the Koran.
And then there is the letter to the London based al-Quds newspaper.
A letter purporting to come from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network has claimed responsibility for the train bombings in Spain, calling them strikes against “crusaders”, according to a London-based Arabic newspaper.
“We have succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance,” said the letter which called the attacks “Operation Death Trains”. There was no way of authenticating the letter, a copy of which was faxed to Reuters’ office in Dubai by the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.
So I have to recognise that I may have got it wrong. The emphasis here is on may. If I do have it wrong I seem to be in good company, the UN itself just reached the same conclusion and the first version edition of the Spanish left-of-centre newspaper El Pais has run with a headline similar to that of my original post . One additional question which concerns me is how it was that Batasuna were themselves so rapidly on the Islamic trail. I mean if this isn’t Eta, there has been a terrible failing in international security. The CIA has no information, but Batasuna apparently sees ‘indications’: I don’t quite know what to make of that. Since I’ve presented my own views sufficiently before, and since I may have misjudged things, I present below some alternative hypotheses.
Killing civilians en masse and at random, Thursday’s Madrid bombings bear the signature of the modern militant age ushered in by al Qaeda, whoever actually planned them.
Security analysts said that if ETA separatists planted the rush-hour bombs that killed at least 180 people, they were drawing at least partly on al Qaeda’s inspiration and tactics.
Despite Spain’s insistence on blaming the Basque group, some experts were reluctant to rule out Islamist involvement.
“This kind of operation is the style of terrorism of our century…That’s the new modus operandi coming from militant Islamists,” said German security analyst Rolf Tophoven, contrasting the indiscriminate mode of the attacks with ETA’s traditional targeting of bankers, politicians or police.
Roland Jacquard, head of the International Terrorism Observatory in Paris, said Thursday’s bombings suggested the influence of “the World Trade Center effect” on the strategies of traditional militant groups — a reference to the U.S. September 11 attacks for which al Qaeda is blamed.
Manuel Coma, security expert at Spain’s Royal Elcano Institute, suggested Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network had caused a kind of global terror inflation.
“Since September 11, there has been a qualitative leap. Small attacks are no longer adequate. They (ETA) have to aim higher to have influence,” he said. A fourth analyst, Sebestyen Gorka, said any evidence of Islamist involvement or influence on a traditional European guerrilla group like ETA would mark a major precedent.
It would completely reverse an older trend whereby groups like the Irish Republican Army transferred their expertise to militants in the developing world like Colombia’s FARC, assisting with technology and training, he said.
Arguing for ETA’s involvement were the timing of the attacks, three days before Spanish elections, and a series of recent arrests and explosives seizures which suggested a major attack by the Basque group was in the offing.
SHIFT IN TACTICS
But the bombings departed from traditional ETA tactics in the lack of prior warning and the very scale of the operation, which killed over eight times more people than the group’s previous deadliest attack.
Also striking was the use of multiple, simultaneous explosions, 10 in all, borrowing a favoured tactic of al Qaeda.
European stockmarkets fell sharply on fears of Islamist involvement, even though the Spanish government firmly rejected that possibility.
“There are characteristics of each,” a U.S. official told Reuters, referring to ETA and al Qaeda.
“You have multiple attacks, multiple explosions in different locations in a short period of time which is very al Qaeda-ish.”
Islamist militants have ample motives to attack Spain, which has arrested a number of al Qaeda suspects. They have targeted Spanish interests before, for example in the May 2003 suicide bombing of a Spanish restaurant in Casablanca, Morocco.
“Spain is an Islamic target. It sides with Britain and the United States in the war on terror, and I have seen statements from Islamic militants claiming parts of Spain for the Islamic world,” said Richard Evans, editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.
“It would be premature to rule out at this stage the possible involvement of Islamic militants.”
If ETA committed the attacks, several analysts said this pointed to a split in its ranks and the emergence, after many senior leaders were caught, of what Jacquard called a “third generation” — younger, less experienced but more radical.
“The only explanation I have is that it’s a weakened but more radical ETA behind this. In other words, the older members have all been arrested and these are very young, very radical people left over,” Joachim Krause of the University of Kiel told Germany’s N-TV channel.
“They’ve perhaps taken al Qaeda as a role model, or other terrorists that turn to spectacular attacks, as in New York and Washington. They’ve seen that’s how to get media attention.” (Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell in London, Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin)
Source: Reuters News