Aznar 'purged all records in Madrid bombings cover-up'

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The Independent Online

Spain's socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, condemned his conserva- tive predecessors yesterday for carrying out a "massive deception" in blaming the 11 March train bombings on Eta Basque separatists.

Spain's socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, condemned his conserva- tive predecessors yesterday for carrying out a "massive deception" in blaming the 11 March train bombings on Eta Basque separatists.

Jose Maria Aznar's team also destroyed all computer records dealing with the bombings before leaving office, Mr Zapatero stated.

Mr Zapatero told a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the tragedy that killed 192 that those responsible were international Islamic terrorists, and he rejected any possibility that Eta Basque separatists might have been involved. "Responsibility for preparing and carrying out the blasts rests exclusively with international terrorism of a radical Islamist type," Mr Zapatero told Spanish MPs. "There was never any line of investigation that pointed to Eta."

Government efforts to implicate Eta up to election day on 14 March were fraudulent, he said. From the moment on the afternoon of 11 March when police found a tape of Koranic verses in a van near the station where the trains started their deadly journey, "the only line of investigation pointed to Islamic terrorists", Mr Zapatero said.

Speaking of the destroyed computer records Mr Zapatero said: "Everything that happened, notes received, meetings or decisions between 11 and 14 March - there's nothing in the PM's office. All that remained was a bill for this massive purge to be settled from public funds," Mr Zapatero told MPs.

El Pais newspaper reported yesterday that the bill was €12,000 (£8,000) for a specialist computer company hired to expunge all computer records, not just the hard drive but the back-up security copies too.

Mr Zapatero challenged assertions made by Mr Aznar to the same commission a fortnight ago. Mr Aznar insisted Eta colluded with Islamic terrorists over the attacks on 11 March with the aim of "upsetting the outcome of the elections three days later ... Relations between Islamist and non-Islamist terrorists are demonstrated to be an irrefutable fact".

Mr Zapatero described Spain's participation in the war on Iraq as "a very grave mistake ... which put, and still puts, Spain at increased risk as a target for Islamic radicals". He contradicted Mr Aznar's insistence two weeks ago that "the 11 March attack had nothing to do with the intervention in Iraq".

Mr Zapatero rebutted conservative criticisms that his immediate withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq was an act of cowardice. On the contrary, Mr Zapatero insisted, Spaniards had displayed "heroism" in their response to the bombings.

He denied allegations that his Socialists had used mobile phone text messages to rally anti-government protests on the day before polling - when demonstrations are banned.

¿ A Spanish judge, Juan del Olmo, started questioning Rabei Osman Ahmed, the Egyptian suspected of being the mastermind of the Madrid train bombings, yesterday. The accused was arrested in Italy after allegedly boasting he orchestrated the bombings and planned another imminent attack.

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