Terrorists and Elections

It’s certainly looking like last week’s bombings were done by al Qaeda or another Islamist faction rather than the ETA. Officials Arrest 3 Moroccans and 2 Indians

Spain’s interior minister said early Sunday that a videotape has been discovered claiming that Al Qaeda carried out train terrorist attacks on Thursday that killed hundreds, but that its authenticity could not be confirmed. Several hours earlier, Spain arrested three Moroccans and two Indians in connection with the bombings.

At a hastily called news conference in the first hours of Spain’s national election day, Interior Minister Ángel Acebes said a man identifying himself as the military spokesman of Al Qaeda in Europe claimed on the tape that the group was responsible for the attacks that killed 200 people and wounded 1,500 in Madrid.

“We claim responsibility for what happened in Madrid just two and a half years after the attacks in New York and Washington,” said the man, according to a government translation of the tape, which was recorded in Arabic. “This is an answer to your cooperation with the Bush criminals and their allies.”

Hours earlier, Mr. Acebes announced that the Spanish police had arrested the five men in connection with the bombings. The men were charged with selling and falsifying a telephone card and a telephone attached to an unexploded bomb found in a gym bag on a train shortly after the bombing.

Mr. Acebes was noncommittal as to the government’s leading suspicions about the culprits, but in response to a question, he said one of the Moroccans arrested might have links to “Moroccan extremist groups.”

Keith B. Richburg reports,

The arrests appeared to throw the country into political turmoil just hours before polls were scheduled to open for national elections scheduled for Sunday, capping a long and emotional day spent burying and cremating dozens of victims of the attacks.

Reports of the suspected Islamic link brought thousands of anti-government protesters onto the streets of Madrid. They converged on offices of the ruling Popular Party and accused the outgoing prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, of withholding information and trying to manipulate public opinion about the terror attacks before the elections. There were similar anti-government protests in Barcelona and Bilbao.

The protesters blamed Aznar and his pro-American policies — including sending 1,300 Spanish troops to Iraq — for the bombings, and said the government initially tried to ascribe blame to the Basque separatist group ETA to avert a popular backlash before the Sunday elections.

Aznar’s handpicked successor, Mariano Rajoy, has pledged to continue the prime minister’s pro-American policies. His Socialist Party challenger, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has promised to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq immediately. In a speech Saturday night at the besieged party headquarters in Madrid, Rajoy called the protests outside illegal and appealed for people to remain calm and for the demonstrators to disperse, but his plea was ignored.

Acebes continued to insist Saturday night that no group had been ruled out as a suspect in the bombings. “Police are still investigating all avenues,” Acebes said. “This is an open investigation, which is only just starting.”

***

The discovery of a possible Islamic terrorist link to the attacks marks a major and embarrassing shift for the government and the Popular Party, since officials, including Acebes, asserted within hours of the attacks Thursday that the bombings were the work of ETA, whose initials in the Basque language stand for Basque Homeland and Freedom.

What’s fascinating about this is that the attack–and especially the timing of the video release–seem calculated to influence the outcome of the election. The obvious question is whether al Qaeda has something planned for just before the November election in the U.S. And what the impact would be if they’re successful.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tom Royce says:

    It also makes you wonder if there could be a hint of collusion with the opposition party. It is scary to think, but I truly believe that there are some who will use any ends to achieve their means…

  2. Not here, though.