Madrid atrocities: Islamic fundamentalists or Eta - who did it?

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The Independent Online

The finger of suspicion last night pointed to al-Qa'ida as possible perpetrators of yesterday's the bomb blasts in Madrid. Spain's Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, made a surprise second appearance to say that the government did not rule out the possibility that an Islamic group could have carried out the attack.

Police found a stolen truck in the town of Alcala de Henares, east of Madrid, that contained seven detonators and and a tape in Arabic containing verses from the Koran. Alcala was the starting point of one of the targeted trains.

In addition, the Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi said last night it had received an e-mail claiming responsibility for the massacre sent by The Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri in the name of al-Qa'ida. The message read: "This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam."

Referring to Spain's outgoing Prime Minister, José Maria Aznar, the statement asked: "Aznar, where is America? Who will protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and others from us?"

The claim was being treated with caution by investigators in Madrid and Mr Acebes insisted that Eta "continued to be the principal line of investigation". Earlier yesterday he had insisted "there was no doubt that Eta was responsible".

Possible links with al-Qa'ida were lent force by the modus operandi of yesterday's multiple attack. The use of multiple simultaneous bombs matched the attack in Karbala last week. There numerous bombs hidden in rubbish detonated to explode at the same moment in different spots in the city, causing maximum panic and confusion.

Yesterday's blasts were also planned to go off simultaneously. Had one of the trains not been delayed all of Atocha station, packed at morning rush hour, would have been destroyed.

Other anomolies also chimed with the al-Quds message. Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Eta's now banned political wing, insisted that Eta had nothing to do with the attack, which has not happened with previous Eta attacks. Ministers initially dismissed Mr Otegi's claim as an attempt to manipulate public opinion and divert attention from the true killers.

Radio reports last night said one of the attacks was carried out by a suicide bomber, not an Eta tactic. All the explosives were found in rucksacks on the train. Police said last night they could not confirm the reports.

Spain was considered Europe's central planning station for the 11 September attacks. One of the suicide pilots, Mohammed Atta, spent a week in Spain ahead of that attack.

Some suspects detained in Spain after 11 September claimed that Spain's role was limited to recruitment, indoctrination and fundraising. They emphatically denied that Spain was a target for attack.

However, Osama bin Laden, in a broadcast shortly after 11 September, made reference to the former Islamic Kingdom of Al-Andalus in what is now Spain, which reached pinnacles of artistic glory and scholarship before being crushed by the crusading Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, who expelled all Muslims from Spain after 1492. It is assumed that this is what was meant by "settling old accounts".

Mr Aznar's support for President George Bush in the war in Iraq has put Spain into the frontline as a possible target. In the Casablanca bombings last May, when five bombs killed dozens, a principal target was a Spanish cultural centre. At that time Spain conceded its posture on the war in Iraq might have made it a target. Spanish soldiers and diplomats have also been attacked in Iraq.

Yesterday's message to al-Quds did not mention Spain, but said: "When we attacked Italian troops in Nasiriyah, and sent you and America's agents an ultimatum to withdraw, you did not understand. Now we have made it clear and hope that this time you will understand".

The nearest reference to the Madrid attacks was: "We, at the Abu Hafs brigades, have not felt sad for the so-called civilians. Is it OK for you to kill our children, women, old people and youth in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir? And is it forbidden for us to kill yours?"

THE 'CLAIM'

Extract from an e-mail claiming al-Qa'ida responsibility for the blast sent to the London office of al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper yesterday:

"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam. Aznar, where is America? Who will protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and others from us?"

"When we attacked the Italian troops in Nasiriyah and sent you and America's agents an ultimatum to withdraw from the anti-Islam alliance, you did not understand the message. Now we have made it clear and hope that this time you will understand."

"We, at the Abu Hafs brigades, have not felt sad for the so-called civilians. Is it OK for you to kill our children, women, old people and youth in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir? And is it forbidden to us to kill yours?

"We announce the good news for the Muslims in the world that the strike of the black wind of death, the expected strike against America, is now at its final stage ­ 90 per cent ready ­ and it is coming soon."

The statement also said another al-Qa'ida squad had attacked a Masonic lodge in Istanbul on Tuesday.

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