Tape claims Al Qaeda behind bombings in Madrid, pledges more attacks
Sunday, March 14, 2004
FREE PRESS NEWS SERVICES
MADRID, Spain -- In a videotaped message, a man purporting to represent Al Qaeda said the terrorist network was behind bombings that killed 200 people and wounded 1,500 on Thursday in Madrid, the Spanish interior minister said early Sunday.
The tape -- along with the arrest of three Moroccan and two Indian suspects -- provided the strongest indication yet of an Islamic link to the attack on one of Washington's staunchest allies in Iraq. The Spanish government, however, said it could not confirm the tape's authenticity.
Interior Minister Angel Acebes spoke about the tape during a hastily called news conference just hours before polls opened today in elections weighed down by debate over the attack. Thousands of people rallied overnight against the governing Popular Party, saying it should be overthrown for drawing Al Qaeda's wrath.
According to a government translation of the tape, recorded in Arabic, the speaker claimed to be the spokesman for Al Qaeda in Europe and said, "We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly 2 years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals'' -- U.S. President George W. "Bush and his allies.''
The man, who wore Arabic dress and spoke with a Moroccan accent, concluded by saying: "This is a statement by the military spokesman for Al Qaeda in Europe, Abu Dujan al Afghani.''
Interior Ministry officials said it was unclear whether that meant the man was Abu Dujan al Afghani, or whether he was speaking on that man's behalf.
The man also threatened further attacks.
"This is a response to the crimes that you caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more if God wills it,'' he said.
Acebes said the tape was discovered after an Arabic-speaking man called a Madrid television station and said where it could be found.
Several months ago, an audio tape threat thought to be from Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned that Spain was among the countries targeted for attacks.
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar - who is not standing for re-election -- is an unabashed admirer of Bush and has been a strong ally of the United States in the war in Iraq, despite opposition from as much as 90 percent of Spain's population.
At demonstrations that lasted until the early hours of Sunday, protesters outside the ruling party's headquarters in Madrid said they believed Aznar's government was playing down the possible link between the bombings and Spain's role in Iraq because it feared a loss at the polls.
Aznar's hand-picked candidate to succeed him, Mariano Rajoy, was only 3-5 percentage points ahead of Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero before opinion polls were stopped before the blasts in the last week of campaigning.
The government has insisted it is pursuing all leads and angrily denied that it is concealing evidence that implicates Islamic groups.
On Saturday, Acebes said the five suspects arrested were linked to a mobile phone that was apparently intended to trigger the detonator in a homemade bomb on a train Thursday. The bomb, which failed to explode, was concealed in a backpack similar to ones that did go off. It was recovered by police in the wreckage.
A spokesman for the Moroccan government identified the three Moroccans arrested as Jamal Zougam, 30; Mohamed Bekkali, 31, and Mohamed Chaoui, 34.
"One might have connections with Moroccan extremist groups. But it is still very early to establish to what degree,'' Acebes said. He did not name any group.
Investigators had said that the only plausible suspect in the bombings was ETA, a terrorist group from the north of Spain that has been planting bombs and shooting government officials for 30 years.
"If it turns out to be ETA, the conventional wisdom is that most votes will swing in favor of the government,'' said Rafael Bardaji, a political analyst at El Cano Institute, a Madrid think tank.
The ETA has denied involvement in Thursday's bombings.
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