On September 11, 2001, America was attacked in two of its major cities. On March 11, 2004, Spain’s major city was attacked. Terror reigned in both capitals, bloodshed was senseless in both countries and Jihad issued identical statements against both “infidel peoples.” Is there a link? Is it the same war? Was it the same organization? Let’s try to find an answer.
When news reached me in New York this morning, I had just finished two days of meetings at three UN Security Council missions: France, Russia and the United States. Strikingly, the horrendous attacks in Madrid came to sadly verify the paradigm I had developed with the diplomats of these and other missions at the United Nations. I remembered vividly my words to the Russian secretary: “Al-Qaeda is not dedicated to harm only the United States but all infidel powers around the world. After New York, Washington and Moscow, the Jihadists will hit London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Madrid. No space will escape the Terror Mujahedin.”
A few hours later, hundreds of innocent train passengers were massacred by ten bombs in Spain’s center. I felt it was al-Qaeda, even though the Spanish minister of interior has declared the separatist ETA group as a potential suspect. I called MSNBC at 10 AM and said: “If ETA didn’t issue a release yet, consider it al-Qaeda. In a few hours, a release will be issued somewhere in the world. You’ll see.”
That was my little burst of analytical prophecies. Commentators were digging into the Basque Terror history to find the explanation. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw saw in these explosions an “aggression against European democracy,” assuming that the bloodshed was aimed at paralyzing the upcoming Spanish general elections. Logical. ETA would do it; there is no doubt about it. But the shadow of jihad and al-Qaeda’s fingerprints were all over. The Basque extremists usually warn, and always take responsibility. Traditionally, they focus on the “state” apparatus, even if civilians have paid the price of their past attacks. But ETA knows it will have to co-exist one day with the rest of Spain, if it wins a separation. Killing civilians en masse without a clear political message didn’t seem to be ETA’s tactics, unless they have gone jihadist themselves. The Basques are led by an intellectual elite and, hence, know the limits of their rebellion. So did al-Qaeda, and it would include killing civilians. My rational analysis opted for a fifty-fifty conclusion while my analytical instincts based on decades of studying jihad’s politics, fingered al-Qaeda.
By the early afternoon, the press agencies started reporting the evidence. First came the finding of a stolen van with seven detonators and an Arabic language tape with Koranic material. According to Spanish police, the vehicle was parked in a suburb near where the attacked trains originated. That alone is an issue by itself. Why would a Koranic tape be found with detonators, either in Madrid or in Moscow? It simply indicates the presence of violent jihad. It further tells us that a terrorist cell has taken form. We’ve seen this in most terror trial cases around the world. In all cases where Jihadi strikes were in preparation, ideological-religious material was found. ETA or not, al-Qaeda had its hands in this.
By the mid-afternoon, the networks aired the news that tipped the balance. According to al Quds al Arabi, a weekly magazine published out of London, an e-mail landed in someone’s computer in that Arabic publication office. The electronic message said al-Qaeda was responsible. It stated that “units from the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades were able to penetrate the heart of Crusader Europe.” The message said these attacks were called the “trains of death.” From that moment on, the prime suspect has become al-Qaeda. But by reading the alleged release, there was almost no doubt in my mind and in the mind of any observer of the Jihadi threat, that the networks of holy war in Europe have selected Spain to become the first victim of the new continental onslaught. The first question is why?
The Iraq Connection
In February of 2003, an audiotape allegedly of the voice of Osama Bin Laden, said the Saddam regime will succumb. It called on all fighters in the name Allah to converge into Iraq to fight the upcoming Crusader march. In fact, the leader of the international holy war had planned to meet the “Kuffars” (unbelievers) in Mesopotamia. In subsequent declarations by the organization, just before, during and after the invasion of Iraq, Spain was declared as a full partner of the Jihad’s axis of enemies. Bush, Blair and Aznar were portrayed by all Islamist movements as the “leaders of the world Crusade against Islam.” Al-Jazeera’s commentators, for months, reminded all good militants around the Arab and Muslim world that Spain was an infidel power, with enclaves in North Africa, i.e., the two cities enclaves of Ceuta and Melila. To put it in terms of geopolitics, the ally of my enemy is my enemy.
Even without sending its troops to fight with the Anglo-Americans, Aznar sinned in the eyes of the Caliphate-to-come. Since the final meeting in the Azores, days before the military advance against the Ba’ath Party of Saddam, the three men who sealed the fate of Iraq became the strategic targets of Bin Laden. Spain later on sent troops to symbolically participate in the stabilization. Al-Qaeda retaliation, carried out by Ansar al-Islam, came quickly. As of the early Fall, Spanish diplomats and officers were assassinated. In October, Osama issued a state of jihad address — delivered via audiotape — in which he classified Spain as an infidel state and called for attacks against it. Ayman al Thawahiri, his deputy, turned executive leader of the network, further threatened Spain, among others. By the end of 2003, the Iberian country was clearly a target for the men of 9/11.
Spain’s Crusade Against the Jihadists
If the Aznar Cabinet aligned itself with the Bush Administration and the Blair Government against the Saddam regime, the Spanish authorities have engaged al-Qaeda and its affiliates almost immediately after September 11. In the secret war against terrorism, Madrid has a first class seat. Reasons for this abound. Geographically, the country is the door into Western Europe for many immigrants and other travelers from the greater Maghreb, including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. And it is precisely through the streams of migrants, that the Jihadists infiltrate the Euro-democracies all the way to France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
In the 1990s, waves of Salafi militants reached Spain. In the preceding decade, these extremely radical groups had profited from the Saudi funding of religious sites in the southern part of Spain and were able to find refuge and get organized. When the civil war exploded in Algeria, Spanish Jihadist based groups acted as logistical groups to the Salafi terrorists in North Africa. Their objective wasn’t Spain yet. When New York got hit, Madrid stood by its ally, learning from the American experience. Its intelligence services moved to shut down the networks within the country. In 2002-2003, Spanish police and security services broke a number of cells. Last year, on September 5, the authorities arrested an al-Jazeera reporter Tayseer al Allouni, on the charge of “collaboration with al-Qaeda.” The Qatar-based TV opened fire with a week’s long campaign demonizing the Spanish government. Clerics and other fundamentalist figures accused Madrid of re-playing the infidel crusade. All indicated by last fall that the Andalousian jihad was on. With the Salafist doctrine, it was bound to happen. Madrid’s position on Iraq and its action against the terrorist cells were only to trigger a war that had been declared longtime ago in the mind of the madrassa teachers.
Back in the 8th century A.D., Spain was the first European Christian country to be invaded by the Arab Islamic armies. It was called al-Andalous for seven centuries. The Madrid attacks — if Jihadist in nature — are undoubtably grounded in a historical reference. Indeed, over the past two years, al-Qaeda websites and their sisters in jihad have classified Spain in the realm of “Muslim areas conquered by the infidels,” reversing the chronology of world events. But in a recent statement by al-Qaeda following the assassination of Spanish intelligence officers in Iraq, the text said, “Spain, once a Muslim country, is now again an aggressor.” The political thinking behind the statement is not unknown to the experts in Islamic Fundamentalism. It is not only about Aznar’s alliance with the U.S. in as much as it is also an old claim laid over the entire Iberian Peninsula. As in the Yugoslav crisis, history is often cited as a root cause. Al-Qaeda and its masters in Arabia haven’t gotten over the change of identity in Spain, and by the same token, Portugal. The founders of global jihad argue that there was another Palestine in Spain, obliterated by the Christians in 1492. They constantly miss to report to their followers that it was first invaded and subdued by the Muslim armies in 715. As in all their “fronts” around the globe, the Jihadist ideologues do not admit the historical order of events. This practice remained the dominant pattern till September 11 in America.
Al-Qaeda has never sent material to Fox News, but to al-Jazeera. It has not sent releases to Paris Match, but to al Qods al Arabi. What would this mean to laymen, then? Well, it tells you about the messenger who receives the message and airs it or sends it around. Al-Jazeera is not Reuters. It basically broadcast the video and audiotapes and serves as an amplifier to al-Qaeda. Al Quds al Arabi is a printed form of al Jazeera. It is not an “Arab publication out of London,” in as much as it is a jihad magazine based in Britain.
You only have to read it to realize that. Better, you can draw that conclusion when you watch its Editor-in-Chief M. Abdel Bari Atwan raging against the West, the U.S. and its allies from al-Jazeera’s studio in London. M Atwan has often called for the legitimization of suicide attacks around the world. “They are acts of resistance,” he constantly states. When the Riyadh strikes took place, it was al Quds al Arabi that broke the “e-mail message.” By going back to the archives, the publication has acted openly as an advocate to al-Qaeda, with the needed legal nuances. On that ground alone, when al Quds al Arabi “breaks” a Bin Laden message to the world, I and some of my colleagues, take the matter seriously.
The Al-Qaeda Claim
As of Thursday night, the email sent to al Quds al Arabi in London was just that, i.e, a “matter to be looked at.” The Aznar government still sees ETA as a main suspect despite the fact that Basque leaders have stated throughout the day that the mostly leftist group “won’t strike the means used by thousands of workers.” Experts are hesitant to go either way. Old timers remember the Oklahoma City syndrome, when terrorism “from Middle Eastern origin” was prematurely accused. Hence, without evidence, few attempt to connect the Jihadist dots. Journalistically, they may have a point, but in a post-September 11 era, the matrix has shifted.
Al-Qaeda has declared and has been conducting a global war against the “infidels.” It has threatened Spain repeatedly in recent months. It has developed cells in the Mediterranean country and has already conducted training activities. Finally, strikes have taken place in the capital, with all the techniques of the Bin Laden tactical manuals. And furthermore, a statement was released via a publication which has been pioneering in breaking similar material in the past. With all that hub of facts, there is little space for doubt, unless proven otherwise: al-Qaeda, its subcontractors, or both combined, have executed the first major jihad strike in Europe.
What the world has seen today may well have been the 9/11 of Spain. Spain now has its own infamous date: 3/11.