Spain has now had its 9/11.
Though scarred by a civil war 70 years ago, and by the fascist terrorism of the Basque separatist ETA movement in recent years, Spain has seen no previous horror that could prepare it for Madrid's recent nightmare.
The blasts struck three railroad stations in the capital, killing at least 190 people and injuring 1,400 more. Spanish authorities at first blamed the atrocity on ETA - but evidence of al Qaeda involvement soon started piling up, including a letter to a Palestinian newspaper in London explicitly taking credit for the massacre.
The real motive is obvious: Spain is a key member of the Coalition building a new Iraq, free of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Although it did not send combat troops, it committed 1,300 peacekeepers to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That decision by Prime Minister José Maria Aznar was unpopular with Spain's public, for reasons that have more to do with the past than the present: Many Spaniards have been traditionally anti-military since the civil war of 1936-39.
Nevertheless, Spanish troops are known for their professionalism, and have made a major contribution in Iraq. (The Spanish Army also served in Bosnia and in Kosovo.) Seven of its intelligence operatives were murdered by terrorists in Iraq at the end of last year, but Aznar refused to consider withdrawing his country's contingent.
Spanish military capability in Iraq extends beyond the usual methods. Its intelligence operatives were said to have achieved outstanding results in infiltrating al Qaeda networks in Iraq. Arabs ruled much of Spain for centuries up to 1492, and the country has a special relationship with its southern neighbor, Morocco, notwithstanding occasional disagreements over small bits of territory. Spain's pro-democratic king Juan Carlos has forged a unique bond with Morocco's King Mohammed VI.
At the same time, Spain has begun experiencing a backlash against high levels of Moroccan and Algerian immigration. Worse, Muslims on its soil have come under the influence of extremists, including the Saudi Wahhabis (who provide an ideological platform for al Qaeda across the Muslim world). Al Qaeda members have been traced to Spain, and arrested; 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta spent time there.
Nobody can doubt that ETA's ultranationalist terrorism, combined with radical leftist opposition to Spanish involvement in Iraq, creates a favorable environment for al Qaeda operations in Spaing. This weekend, the nation goes to the polls, and Aznar's Popular Party (now led by Mariano Rajoy) had already gained support from the scandalous fact that the opposition Socialists, who adopted a strong stance against the Iraq intervention, have maintained a local alliance in the northwestern region of Catalonia with radical nationalists linked to the Basque terrorists.
Everywhere we look today, fascist and leftist enemies of globalization, democracy and, above all, the United States, make common cause. There is no reason Spain should be different.
In the past, ETA assisted Palestinian terrorists, and both were allied with the Irish Republican Army. The "terrorist international" may not announce itself publicly, but it exists, bringing together all who use bloodshed and fear as their primary political weapons.
Some self-styled experts on Islamic radicalism may believe Islamists would strike at Spain because of fantasies that they can regain the territories ruled by Muslims from 711 A.D. to 1492. Maybe. But al Qaeda is more likely to be angered because Spain today celebrates its Muslim and Jewish past, as well as its Christian heritage.
The letter - which the London daily paper Al-Quds al-Arabi said it could not authenticate - denounced Spain as America's "crusader ally." But it also linked the "death trains" devastation in Spain to attacks on synagogues in Turkey last year and insistence that Palestinians retain control of Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites.
Bombs exploded in Turkey because Turkish Jews are a valued element in its population. Similarly, al Qaeda bombs went off in Morocco last year because the Moroccan government seeks to maintain good relations with its Jewish remnant. And Indonesia suffered the Bali bombing of 2002 because the government in that country, the biggest Muslim nation in the world, is committed to civility between its Muslim majority and its Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist and other minorities.
Al Qaeda and its evil minions despise the peace between faiths that's seen in such countries (and also, of course, enshrined in our own American traditions). And a country like Spain that shows courage in finding common ground both with its Moroccan neighbor, regardless of past quarrels, and with the United States, as the liberator of Iraq, must be made to pay a price, in the minds of al Qaeda's insane leaders.
Spain is a worthy ally of our country in seeking to protect freedom from terror. President Bush was right to say, yesterday, "We stand strongly with the people of Spain . . . And today we ask God's blessings on those who suffer in the great country of Spain."