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The Trains of Jihad Derail Spain By: Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 19, 2004


As I heard the horrible news on the Thursday morning of the terrorist attacks in Spain, my mind turned to the news releases made by the Spanish government regarding the attacks. Madrid's conservative government was strangely insisting that the Basque separatists, ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna -- which means “Basque Fatherland and Liberty”), were responsible for the train bombings -- while most evidence was screaming otherwise. ETA, a leftist group, wasn't keen on the mass killing of workers in the past, nor was it known for not making its intentions clear. On the other hand, al Qaeda had already threatened Spain on several grounds, and had manifested its direct intention to wrack havoc in the Iberian country. So why did Prime Minister Aznar’s government choose to initially blame ETA? Why did his foreign minister send a cable to Spanish ambassadors around the world advocating the position that the Basque separatists were responsible for the attacks?

By Friday afternoon, evidence mounted increasingly implicating the Jihadists. A van with explosives and Koranic tapes was found near the scene of one of the bombings, an e-mail sent to al Quds al Arabi in London signed by an al Qaeda brigade claimed responsibility, and, to top it off, al Jazeera's commentators were declaring that the perpetrators were Islamists, possibly from al Qaeda. Yet Spanish officials were steadfast in not giving in to the al Qaeda argument. Viewing these developments from this side of the Atlantic, I not only I found the Spanish government’s arguments illogical, but by last Friday evening, I found them to be suicidal. By refusing to admit the Islamist trail, Spain's ruling party was risking a fall from electoral grace, which would in fact occur just a few hours later.

I watched while the opposition Socialist Party’s protesters encircled Popular Party headquarters. Equipped with slogans about "Iraq and Peace" -- that they strangely prepared in less than 24 hours -- I saw the tidal wave forming. The hijacking of the elections was taking place. The sophisticated maneuver was being broadcast live on national TV, while Spain's masses were mourning. The Government was immolated by the demonstrators, but remained silent. There was something definitively grotesque in this equation.

The Jihadists massacred 200 civilians in Spain, yet the blame was placed on the Spanish government for aligning itself with the US-led coalition against terrorism and the war with Saddam’s Iraq. Why did such contradictory logic prevail in the last hours before the elections? Why was Aznar’s government silent about al Qaeda's involvement? Who advised Aznar not to tell the truth on the spot and why? How come the "anti-war" camp organized so quickly, deciding to blast the ruling party instead of mourning the dead? Why did the Jihadists strike on the Thursday before the elections? What did they expect to achieve? If al Qaeda was responsible for the carnage, was it acting alone? Was there a conspiracy wider than al Qaeda? Who was desperate enough to force a regime change in Madrid? Was this a possible prelude to regime changes in other capitals? Who was the most resentful of regime change in Iraq? These are just some of the questions that must be asked if one is to try and understand what happened in Madrid and why Aznar’s government was so politically susceptible to an attack.

Why didn't the Aznar Government state the facts, and address the people of Spain about the Islamist trail? One conservative answer is that it lacked evidence. But that applies to the Basque trail as well, so it doesn't stand as the sole reason. There was definitely more than a simple case of careful judiciousness going on; the clues seemed quite evident. Furthermore, al Qaeda was sending one message after another, at least from what we heard and saw. First an e-mail from London's Arabic publication, then an audiotape taking responsibility for the strikes, followed by signs from different Web sites. It was as if the "Jihadists" -- or whoever was acting on their behalf -- were desperate to tell the Spaniards (and therefore their opposition forces) that the Spanish government was lying. Someone in the top spheres of the terror network knew how to connect Iraq to al Qaeda, and to blast one of Washington's major allies in the region out of power. How did this happen? Is there one answer?

Here is a shot at it.

The conservative Government of Prime Minister Aznar came to power with little experience in anti-Jihadist policies. It took over in a country with deep Wahabi-based economic investments, high Arab influence, and a significant anti-American apparatus. The conservative cabinet was solid politically with its traditional constituencies, but dramatically weak in convincing the media of its message. While the country's masses voted for Spanish nationalism, its intellectual and media elites remained solidly entrenched against Madrid alignment with Washington. When 9/11 occurred, the people felt closer to the transatlantic alliance, lending Aznar further endorsement. But the academic-media establishment snubbed the War on Terror. It barely tolerated the Spanish support for the initial campaign in Afghanistan. After Tora Bora, the West was divided as to the next step. Prime Minister Aznar chose to march with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to liberate Iraq as a part of the War on Terror. That was the straw that may have broken Aznar’s political back.

Obviously, if Saddam were still around, he would have been the first to punish the audacious government in Madrid. But the master of the Iraqi Baathists is no more, awaiting a tribunal for his war crimes. So who else wanted to punish the Spaniards for daring to send their soldiers to Mesopotamia to participate in Iraqi regime change? Let's refine the question: Who feared regime change in Iraq, so much so that they would rather strike first and provoke a regime change in Madrid – possibly as a prelude to others in London and Washington? In crude words, who would go so far as wishing, let alone acting, for events that would bring down one of the partners of the Coalition-of-the-Willing?

These are scary thoughts as you think about the players in the region, listing potential candidates. Let's try to count. You have the Khumanist establishment in Iran, the Baathist regime in Syria, and the Wahabi clan in Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda is a chief suspect in all Jihadi strikes against the “infidels,” but its terror achievements include interests wider than those of the actual al Qaeda organization. Bin Laden’s followers strike whenever they can and wherever they can against the “infidels” from Bali to Istanbul, but the greater axis of regimes in peril also has a stake, not only al Qaeda. The next question is, why would the "camp of Jihad" fear Spain and go so far as massacring 200 of its citizens while it is busy on so many fronts? Well for starters, Spain was on the short list of holy targets, according to the various audio/video messages put out by al Qaeda itself. But why didn't al Qaeda also blast train stations in the Netherlands, Poland, or Japan on March 11?

The answer is simple: Spain was attacked because none of the above-mentioned allies of the US had elections on March 14 -- only Spain did. And derailing trains full of innocent people 48 hours before the general elections was sure get attention on Spain’s Election Day.

Let's zoom inside the war room that planned this bloodshed. If you murder hundreds of citizens in a country involved in a military action in another country -- just two days before nation-wide elections -- what would you expect to happen?  Two possible results come to mind: 1) if the public knows why its government has sent troops to Iraq and has seen the legitimacy of such involvement and understood it, in the wake of such attacks it would probably overwhelmingly support that government and re-elect its representatives. (In this case, the terrorist strike is to produce just the opposite of its strategic objective.); and 2), if the public wasn't educated as to why its government got involved in Iraq, and wasn't informed about the pillars of the global war on terrorism, it would, in a desperate and emotional move, vote against the incumbent government. Therefore, the election results -- the defeat of Aznar's party -- if anything, tells us the following:

1) The Spanish government entered a war that it understood by itself, but didn't explain the legitimacy of that military intervention to its own public thoroughly enough. Until last Thursday, Prime Minister Aznar took a huge risk by heading toward the elections with a big hole in his public support for the war -- a hole to be exploited by his enemies and the enemies of the coalition he belongs to.

2) By not educating his constituency, the Aznar cabinet opened its flanks to the media-intellectual establishment for surprise attacks and mobilization. If I were Prime Minister of a country with allegedly 90% of its citizens demonstrating against the involvement in Iraq, I would leave everything aside and spend the rest of my mandate doing teach-ins on national TV and public squares. I won't rely on the mercy of the Jihad lobbies, nor the busy schedule of al Qaeda in hopes that my weak political position wouldn’t be exploited.

3) Presumably, one of the reasons why the conservative cabinet of Spain didn't engage in mass campaigns of information and communication about the root causes of Jihad terrorism was the bad advice it received from its own advisors. The tremendous amount of Wahabi-based business in Spain -- from the castles of Malaga and Marbella to downtown Madrid -- outweigh Spain's strategic choices. Arab regimes’ networking, including those of Syria and others, overwhelmed the country's national security considerations. Spain was indeed an ally of the US in the campaign against terrorism, but limited in some respects. Here is an example:

A friend called me last week and said Middle East human rights activists have tried to meet with European officials at the UN to enlist their support in efforts to condemn abuses in Saudi Arabia and Syria. The Spanish embassy refused to meet with them. They were told Aznar was Bush's ally in Iraq and against al Qaeda but not against Riyadh and Damascus. I told that friend that such a government could not sustain the War on Terror. If a government couldn’t oppose the influence of the Middle East authoritarian regimes at home, I reasoned, it wouldn’t be able to harvest an endorsement among its own people. As Spain was deploying its soldiers in Iraq, its back was open to terror at home. But the real danger wasn't the threat posed by al Qaeda alone, it was the poor mobilization within its own civil society. If a country knows exactly who the enemy is, and understands the plans of its foes, it will take more than 200 innocent victims for it to surrender.

The Spanish people were left alone without intellectual defenses, not only as it pertains to the Jihadists, but under the influence of the Wahabi-funded constellation of much of the media as well. For if you were told as an uninformed citizen on March 11 that the reason for the tragedy that struck Madrid was Spain’s involvement in Iraq, and if you were pounded with the footage of the horror on all TV networks around the clock until you cast your ballot on the 12th, how would you vote?  It does not take a political scientist to figure this out -- you would vote your government out of office.

In a sum, this was a sort of a psychological coup d'etat conducted from the outside with support on the inside. It was most probably carried out by al Qaeda on the ground, but most likely provoked by a greater consensus of powers. To stop the greater Middle East initiative undertaken by the US and its Allies, you need to dismantle its tools. In order to do so, you must destroy the Coalition-of-the-Willing. You would concentrate on its weakest component, in this case, Spain. All you would need to do is to bring down its government -- staging an electoral coup initiated by a terror act a few days before the elections is certainly possible, as we have just witnessed.

Al Qaeda can strike at anytime, anywhere, and by any means. All that would have to be done would be to ensure that al Qaeda would strike during the specific time frame of the Spanish elections. And that is the art of the very possible. So, in sum, one finger would trigger al Qaeda, and the other would trigger the media response, amounting to a pincer move to unseat Aznar's party in 72 hours. Now that the trains of Jihad have derailed Spain, who is next?

I asked my human rights activist friend what other mission did not receive the Mideast opposition groups at the UN, like Spain. He said, “Great Britain….”


Professor Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad. He is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.


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