The al-Qa'ida connection

Video claim of responsibility for Madrid outrage after Moroccans and Indians arrested
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The Independent Online

Spanish police have recovered a videotape claiming responsibility for the deadly Madrid rail bombings in the name of Islamic militant group al-Qa'ida, Spain's Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, said early this morning.

Spanish police have recovered a videotape claiming responsibility for the deadly Madrid rail bombings in the name of Islamic militant group al-Qa'ida, Spain's Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, said early this morning.

He said: "It's a claim made by a man in Arabic with a Moroccan accent. He makes the declaration in the name of someone who says he is the military spokesman of al-Qa'ida in Europe." He added that the authenticity of the tape had not been proven.

The dramatic announcement came six hours after Spanish police arrested five men ­ three Moroccans and two Spaniards of Indian origin ­ in connection with their investigation into Thursday's bombing which killed 200.

At an earlier news conference, Mr Acebes, said the five were held in connection with a mobile phone and phone cards found inside an explosives-filled backpack which failed to detonate. Ten other bombs devastated four commuter trains in Thursday's attacks, and another two backpacks were destroyed in controlled explosions. One of the suspects "could be related to Moroccan extremist groups", Mr Acebes added, "but we should not rule out anything."

Moroccan security experts were expected in Madrid today to participate in the investigation.

All the arrests were made "for presumed implication in the sale and falsification of the mobile phone and cards found in the bag that did not explode", the minister said. The detentions were the first tangible fruit of frenetic investigations into the tragedy, and point strongly to Islamist ­ rather than Basque separatist ­ radicals as being responsible, a development which could impact on today's general election in Spain.

Properties throughout the capital were being searched, said Mr Acebes, in what he called "an investigation just beginning that was a very important route to pursue". This was the first time the minister failed to suggest that ETA, the Basque separatist movement, might be responsible.

One al-Qa'ida affiliate was blamed for 45 deaths in bombings in Casablanca last May ­ an attack labelled "franchise terrorism" by some analysts. Aspects of Thursday's carnage appeared more characteristic of Osama bin Laden's organisation than ETA, which had previously killed no more than 21 people in a single attack. The heavy loss of life in simultaneous explosions and the lack of warning are seen as signatures of al-Qa'ida.

If the atrocity is the work of the organisation, Madrid would be the scene of its first successful attack in the West since the 11 September 2001 strikes in the US, exactly two and a half years previously. It is already the worst terrorist atrocity in mainland Europe, exceeded on this side of the Atlantic only by the 270 deaths in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie in 1988.

Mr Acebes had been first to insist in the aftermath of the explosions that "there was not the slightest doubt" that ETA was responsible, a position from which he has been backpedalling ever since. So keen was the outgoing Popular Party government to blame ETA that the Foreign Ministry sent messages to Spanish ambassadors across the globe on Thursday urging them to "take advantage of any occasions ... to confirm the responsibility of ETA for these brutal attacks, and to dissipate any shred of doubt interested parties might want to raise".

While Mr Acebes was insisting that the government "has neither distorted nor hidden evidence", thousands of demonstrators converged upon the Popular Party's headquarters. There were similar protests in other Spanish cities. "Who was it? Liars!" the Madrid demonstrators shouted, demanding the government be less secretive about the terror attacks, before voting begins today.

Lights went on all over the darkened building, until the PP's candidate for prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, made a televised order for the demonstrators to disperse, claiming their protest violated Spain's sacred "day of reflection".

Opinion polls suggest the PP will be returned as the biggest party, but it might fall short of a majority. It would have either to rule in minority ­ an option barely conceivable with every party ranged in opposition to the government's support for George Bush over Iraq ­ or engage in much eating of words.

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