ETA or al-Qaeda? Madrid Bombing’s Significance Unknown
As Steve Komarow argues, the full implications of the sanguinary bombings in Spain on Thursday depend on who did it. If it was ETA, the Basque separatist organization, then it would tend to be seen by the rest of the world as of mainly local significance. If it was al-Qaeda or a similar group, then this was their biggest operation in a Western country since September 11, and can only be compared to the Bali bombings and to Lockerbie in terms of loss of life and numbers wounded, as the Spanish newspaper Cinco Dias noted.
Al-Quds al-Arabi reports that credit for the bombing was taken by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a small terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. It is named for the ex-policeman Muhammad Atif [Atef] of Egypt, who was a member of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Jihad al-Islami and who helped plan the shooting of dozens of Western tourists at Luxor in 1997. Atif was killed by American bombardment in Afghanistan in fall of 2001.
The group named after him claimed responsibility for the Istanbul synagogue bombings last fall, and also for the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last summer. Note that the Turkish authorities blamed the Turkish Hizbullah for the synagogue bombings, and the forensics of the UN HQ attack point to Baathists. So it may be that the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades just likes to increase its reputation for terror attacks by claiming those of other people. (It claimed the Jakarta hotel bombing, too, which was certainly instead Jemaah Islamiya, a Southeast Asian group). Al-Quds al-Arabi used to be paid for by Saddam, and I don’t know who pays for it now, but it might also be being used by someone to take claim for something that the Basques are actually behind.
The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades did threaten a number of Western countries last fall, in a communique sent to al-Quds al-Arabi: “We say to the criminal Bush and his valets among the Arabs and foreigners, in particular Britain, Italy, Australia and Japan: you will see the cars of death with your own eyes in the centre of the capital of tyranny. They will not be limited to Baghdad, Riyadh, Istanbul, Djerba, Nasiriyah, Jakarta.” What is strange is that they forgot to mention Spain in this statement.
The discovery of a van near the train station, with detonators and Arabic material in it, has provoked an investigation by the Spanish authorities. But at this point no conclusive evidence has been found that proves who committed this horrible act.
The possibility that the bombings were reprisals against Spain for supporting the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq this time last year has led some Spaniards in the Opposition to come out to protest against rightwing Prime Minister Aznar.