The Blog

Willful Ignorance

What we do, and don't, know about the Madrid train bombings and al Qaeda.

11:00 PM, Mar 21, 2006 • By DAN DARLING
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Therefore we say that to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq the resistance has to measured by painful strikes against their forces and accompanying this a informative campaign clarifying the truth of the situation inside Iraq, and we must absolutely gain from the approaching date of general elections in Spain in the third month of the coming year. We believe that the Spanish government will not endure two or three attacks as a maximum limit because it will be forced to withdraw afterwards due to the popular pressure on it, for if its forces remain after these strikes it is almost certain the Socialist forces will win the elections, as one of the main goals of the Socialist party will be the withdrawal of the Spanish troops . . . the dominoes will fall quickly, although the basic problem will remain of toppling the first piece.

-Iraq al-Jihad, circa August 2003

"MADRID TRAIN BOMBINGS PROBE FINDS NO AL-QAEDA LINK" was the headline of a widely-circulated Associated Press story two weeks ago. Citing a "Spanish intelligence chief" and a "Western official intimately involved in counterterrorism measures in Spain," the AP reported that "A two-year probe into the Madrid train bombings concludes the Islamic terrorists who carried out the blasts were homegrown radicals acting on their own rather than at the behest of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network." While acknowledging that the masterminds behind the attack were "likely motivated by bin Laden's October 2003 call for attacks on European countries that supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq" and that "the plotters had links to other Muslim radicals in western Europe," the AP cited the Spanish intelligence chief as saying that there were "no telephone calls between the Madrid bombers and al Qaeda and no money transfers" and "no evidence they were in contact with the al Qaeda leader's inner circle."

Such a view is by no means new. Indeed, in June 2005 Dateline NBC reported that "Madrid is cited as the key turning point in the evolution of Islamic terror. Initially, Spanish and U.S. counterterrorism officials sought links between al-Qaeda (or, as the CIA now describes it, 'al-Qaeda Central'). But quickly they realized there weren't any. . . . It required no central direction from the mountains of Pakistan, simply a charismatic leader with links to men trained in the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union."

SUCH A VIEW is no doubt attractive, but there are serious problems with it. As the March 11 Commission (an independent Spanish investigation into the attacks parallel to the U.S. 9/11 Commission) noted, there were numerous connections between the masterminds of the 3/11 attacks, al Qaeda, and a number of known al Qaeda associate groups including Ansar al-Islam, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (and its offshoot Salafi Jihad), and Abu Musab Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq (then al-Tawhid wal Jihad). There is also the al Qaeda strategy document Iraq al-Jihad, which appears to lay out in detail plans for attacks in Spain several months prior to the country's elections.

According to the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI)'s report on the motivations of Islamist terrorism in Europe, "The researchers from the FFI consider it likely that the terrorists behind the Madrid massacre were familiar with the contents of this strategy document" as well as that "the evidence leaves few doubts that the attacks in Madrid were carried out by al-Qaeda affiliates in Spain."

Most importantly, the March 11 Commission identified former Egyptian army explosives expert Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed as one of the planners of the Madrid bombings. According to an arrest warrant issued by Spanish judge Juan del Olmo, Ahmed is "a suspected member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad" who "took over leadership of a group of followers of extremist Islamist ideology, supporters of the Jihad and of Osama bin Laden" while living in Madrid. Now on trial in Milan for international terrorism, Ahmed was wiretapped by Italian authorities telling an associate that "The Madrid attack is my project and those who died as martyrs are my dearest friends."

Given that Egyptian Islamic Jihad is currently headed by al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, one would think that such a statement from one of its members, to say nothing of various statements from senior Spanish and Italian law enforcement and judicial officials, would settle the issue of al Qaeda involvement in the Madrid train bombings once and for all.