Thursday, October 21, 2004

Spain Foils Islamist Attack--
Possible ETA Connection to Train Bombings Revealed

On the day of the Madrid bombings of March 11, Interior Minister Angel Acebes was quick to declare that security forces had no doubt that the attacks were carried out by the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA. Many Spaniards believed the government was trying to shift responsibility onto Basque militants and away from Islamists so that the attacks would not be seen as revenge over Spain's support for the Iraq war. This widespread skepticism is thought to have been a major factor in the victory of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialists in the Spanish general elections three days later.

In recent weeks, El Mundo has claimed that Acebes may have been right to link the bombings to ETA after all. In September, the daily newspaper hypothesized that "Moroccan criminals, manipulated by the intermediaries of Al-Qa'idah, infiltrated by the Moroccan secret services and with indirect links with ETA" may have been responsible for the massacre. Zapatero dismissed the allegations as "total foolishness" in an interview in El Pais earlier this month.

El Mundo has responded by citing what it called its "first concrete link" between Islamists and ETA. The first trace of the link came when the newspaper reported that an imam in Madrid who worked with the Moroccan secret services became an informant for the Spanish police in 2002, telling them of the terrorist plans of an Islamist group. The tips were allegedly lost in Spain because of "inefficiency of police bureaucracy" but not apparently lost in Morocco.

Then, on Monday and Tuesday, October 18-19, an Islamist cell was dismantled that was said to be plotting another large-scale attack on Madrid. Some of the individuals arrested had reportedly met in Spanish prisons and had had contacts with Islamic fundamentalists living in Europe, Australia and the United States.

El Mundo reports that it was the Madrid imam who provided the information that led to the arrests. According to the imam, the seven detainees had gotten in touch with ETA member Juan Jose Rego Vidal, who was in prison for attempting to assassinate King Juan Carlos in 1995, in an attempt to obtain 1,000 kilograms of explosives from ETA. They then planned to plant the explosives in a lorry close to Madrid's National Court. The detainees were thought to have links with al-Qaeda, but there are no known direct connections to the 20 suspects currently jailed for the March 11 bombings. The detainees were identified as Ismail Latrech, Mourad Yala, Magid Mchmacha, Ali Omar, Djamel Merabet, Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed, and an illegal immigrant known as Mehdi. The organizer of the cell has been identified as an Algerian jailed in Switzerland since September 2003, who uses the false names Mohammed Achraf and Mikael Etienne Christian.

Sources: Deutsche Presse-Agentur and BBC Monitoring International Reports.

UPDATE: Financial Times reports on Thursday that Australian police confirmed they were investigating possible contacts between the arrested suspects in Spain and Islamic radicals under their jurisdiction. They also reported that a a "martyrs' manual" was reportedly seized at the home of one of the suspects detained on Monday.

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|| headland, 12:34 AM


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