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Aftermath of the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks
The 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks were followed by an intensive criminal investigation, leading to the arrest of several people, and massive street demonstrations in numerous Spanish cities. Three days after the attacks, the presiding Spanish government was defeated in the Spanish general election.
Following the attacks, initial suspicions focused on the Basque armed separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna ("Basque Fatherland and Liberty") or ETA, although suggestions that the Islamist organisation al-Qaida was responsible were also immediately advanced.
These suggestions were strengthened when a van was found parked outside the rail station at Alcalá de Henares, containing audio tapes of verses of the Qur'an, as well as clothes, cell phones and copper detonators. Furthermore, forensic analysis of an undetonated bomb found in a backpack outside El Pozo indicated that neither the explosives nor the detonators used in the attacks were of the type normally used by ETA. The detonators were made of copper, while ETA uses aluminium detonators. Also, the explosive used, Goma-2 made in Spain by Explosivos Río Tinto , was unlike the foreign-made Titadine brand explosive used by ETA. The design of the bomb, in which a cell phone was used as a timer or remote control device, also did not conform to customary ETA design.
The importance of these findings was that this was the only complete bomb recovered by the investigation. The detonators were of the same type found in the van outside the station at Alcalá de Henares. The cell phones were modified with two holes drilled near the power uptake. Similarly altered phones had been found on a previous occasion during a police investigation of al-Qaida activity.
According to police sources, the attacks were carried out by a group of six Moroccans, and it is suspected that one of the bombers died in the blasts, although analysis of the autopsies of the victims had earlier suggested an absence of suicide bombers among the dead.
On March 30, interior minister Angel Acebes said that the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group was the "investigators' priority," although he insisted that other terrorist organisations had not been ruled out.
The London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi reported receiving an e-mail communication on 11 March, from someone claiming to be from al-Qaida and claiming responsibility for the attacks. The letter was signed by the "Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades". The newspaper had previously received letters from the same group claiming responsibility, on behalf of al-Qaida, for the bombing of two synagogues in Turkey on November 15, 2003 and the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003.
The letter referred to the bombings as "settling old accounts with Spain the crusader", possibly a reference to the Christian reconquista of Spain that ended in 1492 and the subsequent expulsion of Muslims from the country. Osama bin Laden has also previously used the term to refer to the United States and the United Kingdom, drawing a parallel between the UK/US presence in the Middle East and the medieval Crusades. (President Bush once called the war on terror a "crusade", but did not use the term again, due to its sensitivity among Muslims.)
The letter also referred to Spain's alliance with the United States in "its war against Islam", and warned that a major attack against the US was "90 percent ready". The message declared that "soon the Death Smoke Squad will reach you and you will see your people dead in the thousands" and advised Muslims around the world "not to come near civilian or military institutions of the USA".
The letter also stated that "the death squad has penetrated the heart of one of the pillars of the crusader alliance, Spain, and dealt a painful blow," and asks "Aznar, where is America, who will protect you from us? Great Britain, Japan, Italy and the others? When we attacked the Italian troops at Nasiriya and sent you and the American agents an ultimatum to withdraw from the anti-Islam alliance, you did not get the message. Now we make it clear and we hope this time you'll get it. ... We the Brigades of Abu Hafs al-Masri feel no sorrow for so-called civilians. If it is OK for you to kill our children, women, elderly and young in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir, why should we not kill yours?"
However, the veracity of these claims has been questioned. The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades have a history of making false claims of responsibility, notably claiming that they had caused the 2003 North America blackout when it was in fact the result of a cascading failure in the electricity distribution network.
According to Spanish Interior Minister Ángel Acebes , a Madrid television station Telemadrid received a phone call on 13 March from a man speaking in Arabic with a Moroccan accent announcing that a videotape claiming responsibility for the attacks could be found in a wastebasket near a Madrid mosque. On the tape, a man speaking Arabic with a Moroccan accent and wearing Arabic dress claimed the group was responsible for the bombings.
The videotaped message, in translation, went as follows:
- We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two and a half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it. You love life and we love death, which gives an example of what the Prophet Muhammad said. If you don't stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow and these attacks will seem very small compared to what can occur in what you call terrorism. This is a statement by the military spokesman for al-Qaida in Europe, Abu Dujan al-Afghani.
Interior Ministry officials said it was unclear whether that the concluding claim meant the man was Abu Dujan al-Afghani himself or that he was speaking in his name. Acebes said the name was not known to intelligence agencies, and that they were checking the tape's authenticity. On Monday, 15 March the tape was confirmed to be authentic.
In the afternoon of 13 March 2004, seven suspects were arrested around Madrid in connection with the sale and falsification of a cellphone and pre-paid card found inside the unexploded backpack found at El Pozo station. Three of them were described as Moroccan citizens, two as Indian citizens, and two as Spaniards of Indian origin. The two Spaniards were picked up for questioning and were not formally arrested, but remained in custody the next day and were released two days later. The three Moroccans were identified as Jamal Zougam, 30; Mohamed Bekkali, 31, a mechanic; and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, a worker; all three from northern Morocco. The two Indians were identified as Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar. Three of the suspects had previous police or judicial records and one was under investigation for suspected participation in murder. One suspect may have also had connections with Moroccan extremist groups. It was apparently alleged that the arrested men provided logistical support to the actual perpetrators of the attacks.
Zougam, the main suspect, had already been under surveillance since May of 2003, when suicide bombings in Casablanca against Jewish and Spanish targets killed 33 people and 12 bombers. The Casablanca bombings were blamed on Salafia Jihadia , a secretive, ultra-radical offshoot of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which is suspected of having links to al-Qaida.
Zougam is mentioned in the investigation of the al-Qaida cell allegedly involved in the September 11 attacks, and in a separate investigation into Afghan recruitment rings. Zougam faces no formal charges in Morocco, but is suspected of having ties to the radical Islamic movement. The other two Moroccan suspects had no police record at home. One of the arrested suspects was recognized by two survivors of the blast who said they saw him before the explosions took place.
On 13 March San Sebastián police detained an Algerian named Ali Amrous who allegedly talked about a terrorist attack in Madrid two months before it occurred. Amrous, an apparent indigent, was first arrested in January 2004 after a neighborhood disturbance and made the threatening comments while being questioned by police, saying that "we will fill Madrid with the dead." Authorities doubted he was connected at a high level with any terrorist group but may have known about the attacks in advance. Amrous was questioned and then released on 19 March.
Five additional suspects were arrested on 18 March around Alcalá de Henares. Three of the suspects were identified as Moroccans Farid Oulad Ali, a construction worker, Abderrahim Zbakh and Saad Houssaini; one as a Spanish citizen, arrested in Asturias region in northern Spain, for investigation of robbery of explosives; and a fifth as Mohamed El Hadi Chedadi, the brother of Said Chedadi, an alleged al-Qaida operative arrested in 2001. One of those arrested was suspected of a major role in the attack and was also wanted over the Casablanca bombings.
Four suspects were arrested on 22 March. These included three picked up in Madrid's Lavapies district, a multiethnic neighborhood where chief suspect Jamal Zougam ran a cell phone shop. The fourth was arrested in Getafe, a suburb of Spain's capital.
On 31 March news agencies reported that international arrest warrants for five suspects were to be issued by the Spanish judge investigating the attacks. A Moroccan national, Abdelkrim Mejjati, was named as the alleged mastermind of the Madrid and Casablanca attacks with the remainder believed to either have been among the perpetrators or to have played a supporting role. (BBC)
On 3 April 2004, as police moved in to arrest some suspects in an apartment building in Leganés, the suspects blew themselves up, killing a special forces agent and wounding 11 other police officers, according to a report from CBC News. No bystanders were reported injured, as the area around the apartments had previously been evacuated. Among the dead suspects were the Moroccans Jamal Ahmidan , Asri Rifat Anouar and Abdennabi Kounjaa, and the Tunisian Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet . Fakhet was described as the ringleader of the Madrid bombing. One dead suspect was not yet identified by April 5.
On 6 May, Brandon Mayfield was arrested at his office in West Slope, Oregon on the basis that a fingerprint found on a bag containing detonating devices was identified as his by the FBI. Although his lawyer and family protested that Mayfield had not been to Spain for at least ten years, and had no other ties to the attacks, he remained in jail and incommunicado for two weeks as a material witness. Spanish authorities, who had been doubtful of the identification, finally announced on 21 May that their initial identification was incorrect, and Mayfield was at last released by the US government.
On 8 June, police in Milan arrested Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed for belonging to an international terrorist organization. Spain announced that he was a "mastermind" of the Madrid attacks with links to Fakhet and Amer El Azizi , a Morrocan, one of 10 suspects still at large.
On 19 March 2004, Spanish authorities publicly accused, for the first time, three Moroccans of direct involvement in the attacks. Spanish judge Juan del Olmo charged Jamal Zougam, Mohamed Bekkali and Mohamed Chaoui with 190 murders (those of bodies identified at the time), 1,400 attempted murders, and membership of a terrorist group. The three Moroccans claimed in court that they were at home in bed when the bombs went off and denied having anything to do with the attacks. Two Indian men, Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, were charged with collaborating with a terrorist group and falsifying a sales document.
The five suspects, who had been kept in a holding cell in a police station, were sent to Soto del Real jail on Madrid's northern outskirts early on 19 March, 2004 and ordered by del Olmo to be held incommunicado, barring contact with lawyers and family members. The charges mean they can be jailed for up to two years while investigators gather evidence to try to bring them to trial. After that, they can be held for an additional two years, be indicted and put on trial, or be released if there is insufficient evidence to try them.
Four more suspects were charged on 23 March 2004. Spaniard José Emilio Suárez, was accused of providing explosives for the attacks, with 190 counts of murder, 1,430 counts of attempted murder, robbery and collaborating or belonging to a terrorist organization. Moroccan Abderrahim Zbakh was charged with all those same offenses except robbery. Mohamed El Hadi Chedadi and Abdelouahid Berrak, also Moroccans, were charged with collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist organization.
Spanish leaders across the political spectrum responded to the attacks by reaffirming democratic values. They also asserted that terrorists must not be allowed to achieve policy change through killings; a stance that is reiterated after every violent ETA action in Spain.
In a press conference on 12 March, Prime Minister Aznar, while not discarding any line of investigation regarding the perpetrators, said that "this is not the time" to discuss past foreign policy decisions. He also announced 140 million euros in aid to victims, granted Spanish nationality to affected foreigners, and promised legal residency to illegal immigrants affected by the attacks. He also said he did not give the benefit of the doubt to the mouthpieces of illegal organizations – a reference to the comments of Arnaldo Otegi of Batasuna shortly after the attacks took place.
Since the attacks occurred three days before a general election, they soon became the subject of political controversy. Opposition politicians and commentators urged the government to be clearer and more forthcoming about the information they had on the perpetrators. Socialist party leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that "the political response must be different, according to whether it was an al-Qaida or ETA attack." Later in the day, he limited his comments to demanding "the utmost diligence" in publicizing information regarding the attacks and encouraged people to attend the demonstrations scheduled for the evening. He also called for a meeting of all major political parties on Monday to "stand up to the murderers" together.
Juan José Ibarretxe Markuartu, head of government in the Basque Country, said that "we have a right to know the truth and, above all, it is something that is owed to the victims and their families." He stressed that, while not changing the human tragedy, the political interpretation of the bombings depended on who has carried them out. Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira of the Catalan nationalist party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, who had recently come under fire for secretly meeting with ETA and advocated dialog, said that he was convinced that "the government delays and hides information" and demanded that the government clarify before the election whether al-Qaida was to blame.
Claiming that the government held the information about the van found outside the Alcalá station, José Blanco of the PSOE said he believed the government would withhold information until after the 14 March elections. Similar statements were made by members of the Basque regional government. Gaspar Llamazares of the United Left (the electoral front of the Communist Party of Spain), asked the government to provide "the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth", which is the phrase used for witnesses' oaths at a trial in Spain.
Mariano Rajoy, the ruling People's Party's candidate for prime minister and a member of Aznar's cabinet, stressed that he was more interested than anyone in knowing who was responsible, and he further noted that he lent no credibility to the claims of responsibility by an al-Qaida group. He also said that "no distinctions can be made between terrorists". Deputy Prime Minister Javier Arenas defended the idea that ETA was responsible, recalling that "they have attempted it on four occasions". Aznar responded to criticism by promising that "we will tell the Spanish people everything we know".
Interior Minister Acebes insisted that ETA was the most likely culprit, drawing parallels with attempted train massacres at Chamartín and Vall d'Aran rail stations during the Christmas seasons of 2002 and 2003, respectively. He reported the finding of another unexploded bomb in a duffel bag loaded with explosives and shrapnel, with a detonator of the same type as was found in the van on 11 March. He also indicated that the Spanish government doubts, based on intelligence, that the claim of responsibility submitted to a London newspaper is authentic.
The Association of Arabic Entrepreneurs in Spain condemned the attacks and said that the Arabic community feared for their personal security should a connection to al-Qaida be confirmed.
In Pamplona, an off-duty National Police agent shot dead his neighbour baker associated with an association of relatives of ETA prisoners. The police officer immediately gave himself up for arrest. Apparently, the baker was involved in an argument with the wife and son of the police officer, who demanded that the baker display a flag with a black ribbon and a banner against ETA. Supporters of ETA prisoners protested demonstrating and rioting on the streets.
On the evening of 13 March, thousands of demonstrators, demanding to know who was behind the attacks before the general election the following day, gathered in front of Popular Party offices or government delegations in several major cities. Police monitored these spontaneous demonstrations and in some cases asked demonstrators to produce identification. The Madrid demonstration was cordoned off and riot police were called to stand by. Such spontaneous demonstrations are illegal under Spanish law.
Mariano Rajoy called the demonstrations "undemocratic pressure on tomorrow's elections", and the Popular Party filed a complaint with the Central Electoral Board, as the day before an election is intended to be a "day of reflection" and no political campaigning is allowed. The Central Electoral Board later certified the illegality of the demonstrations. Earlier in the day, the United Left had filed a separate claim against the publication in the newspaper El Mundo of an interview with Rajoy in which he asked voters for "an absolute majority" in Sunday's elections.
The demonstrations against the People's Party were apparently organized over instant messaging using cell phones. In particular, the demonstration in Barcelona seems to have followed smart mob tactics, moving quickly from one location to another by breaking up into smaller groups. Slogans included "We want the truth before voting," "Liars, liars, who did it?", "Aznar, we all pay for you", or "who got us into this?", "this happens to us for having a fascist government", "against partisan use of data", "this is the price of oil", and "your war, our dead".
According to this story, one man, who claimed to have no connection to political parties but was angered by national TV station coverage of the investigation, sent a message to ten friends asking them to "pass it on", and did not expect thousands of people to join the demonstration.
Observances following the attacks
|Bilbao (pop. 350,000)||300,000|
|Valencia (pop. 800,000)||400,000|
|Seville (pop. 700,000)||700,000|
|Vigo (pop. 300,000)||400,000|
|Oviedo (pop. 203,000)||350,000|
|Cádiz (pop. 160,000)||350,000|
|Pamplona (pop. 171,000)||85,000|
|Valladolid (pop. 390,000)||250,000|
|Ourense (pop. 109,000)||65,000|
|Las Palmas (pop. 365,000)||40,000|
In the wake of the attacks, Prime Minister Aznar declared three days of national mourning . Flags were lowered to half-mast and all television stations displayed a logo of a black ribbon. The European Parliament declared 11 March a memorial day to commemorate the victims of terrorism. The European Parliament presidency under Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern called for an EU-wide three minutes' silence at noon Spanish time (11:00 UTC) on Monday 15 March.
King Juan Carlos addressed the nation directly for the first time (apart from his annual Christmas addresses) since defusing the attempted military coup of February 23, 1981. In his speech, he made no explicit reference to either ETA or al-Qaida. Queen Sofía, the Prince of Asturias, and the Prince's fiancée Letizia Ortiz visited the wounded and medical personnel at Gregorio Marañón hospital.
On 12 March, some 11.4 million people, more than a quarter of Spain's 40 million population, demonstrated in cities across the country. This tally competes with the imprecise figure of 10 million protesters worldwide for the protests against the Iraq war on 15 February, 2003, which the Guinness Book of Records listed as the largest mass protest movement in history. On the same day, U.S. President George W. Bush led an observance at the residence of the Spanish ambassador in Washington, laying a wreath at the flagpole and speaking there. He also gave interviews with a Spanish television network.
Two million of Madrid's four million citizens demonstrated in the pouring rain, chanting cries such as "we were all on that train", "we're not all here, 200 are missing", "Spain united will never be defeated", "They are chickens without their guns," or "Murderers, murderers". Originally planned as a march from Plaza de Colón to Atocha, the demonstration filled the entire planned route of the march and the adjacent streets.
The Prince of Asturias and his sisters Elena and Cristina took part in the demonstration - the first time in history a member of the Spanish royal family has done so. Antonio María Cardinal Rouco , Archbishop of Madrid, also took part in his first demonstration. Prime Minister Aznar, European Commission head Romano Prodi, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Durão Barroso, British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin also took part, as did the German, Swedish, and Moroccan ministers of foreign affairs.
One and a half million people turned out in Barcelona, under the slogan Avui jo també sóc madrileny ("Today I too am Madrilenian"). Tens of thousands turned out in Bilbao, Seville, Valencia, and other cities across Spain. In some cities, turnout for the protests actually exceeded the city's population, due to inflows from surrounding regions.
3,000 people gathered before Popular Party headquarters at Calle Génova in Madrid starting after 5pm, marching through Puerta del Sol to Atocha after Midnight. The demonstration grew to 5,000 people at Atocha. Dwindling, but still in the thousands, demonstrators returned to Popular Party headquarters around 4:00 AM on Sunday morning. In Barcelona, a march of 150 people banging pots started around 7:40 PM at Rambla de Canaletas and grew to 3,000 before it turned into a demonstration at Plaza de Sant Jaume. 7,000 people demonstrated in front of the Catalan Popular Party headquarters, also in Barcelona. 1,500 people demonstrated in Santiago de Compostela, 1,200 in Zaragoza and 1,000 in Valencia. In other cities gatherings numbered in the hundreds.
Spontaneous demonstrations, largely directed against ETA, broke out across Spain as the news of the attack became known, in advance of scheduled demonstrations set for the following day at 19:00.  Lehendakari (Basque Country President) Juan José Ibarretxe condemned the attacks, saying that "when ETA attacks, the Basque heart breaks into a thousand pieces". He invited the Basque population to demonstrate in silence in front of city halls and municipal buildings.
The Spanish general election
Spain's Socialists scored a dramatic upset in elections 14 March, unseating conservatives stung by charges they provoked the Madrid terror bombings by supporting the U.S led war in Iraq and making Spain a target for al-Qaida. Until the attacks the People's Party appeared to have a good chance to win a third consecutive term in power, although it was expected to take a plurality of seats in Congress (the lower house of parliament) rather than the majority they held since March 2000. It was the first time a government that backed the Iraq war had been up for re-election, and it lost. Incoming prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero pledged to bring home the 1,300 troops that Spain has stationed in Iraq when their tour of duty ends in July 2004.
The surprise defeat of the Popular Party was widely attributed to anger amongst voters that the government was not, in their view, being honest about the investigation of the attacks, while initially blaming the attack on ETA. The government had insisted that its prime suspect in the bombings was ETA, even as evidence mounted of an Islamic link. The government was accused of withholding information on the investigation to save the election.
Voters turned out in large numbers to cast their vote, many of them wearing the black ribbon symbols of national grief. Turnout soared to 77.2 percent from 68.7 at the last general election in 2000. For details of the election result, see Spanish general election, 2004.
It will always be uncertain whether or not the outcome of the election was the result of the attacks on March 11. However, there exists some significant data. For example, the mail vote (mostly cast before the attack) followed a distribution far more similar to what was expected by opinion polls (that is, the Popular Party was still the winner although it lost votes compared to the results in 2000). Also, if the results obtained on March 14 would have been the same than those of the European election three months later (when the Socialist Party had been governing for less than two months) the Socialist Party had also won with 162 seats but the Popular Party would have obtained 161 seats; a closer result than the real one (the Socialist Party won with 168 seats and the Popular Party obtained only 148).
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