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Was it eta or alqaeda { March 12 2004 }

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World > Terrorism & Security
posted March 12, 2004, updated 12:00 p.m.
Was it ETA or Al Qaeda?
European media: 'For us, terrorism is no longer a spectator sport.'

By Tom Regan |

The day after Europe's deadliest terrorist attack in 16 years, BBC Online reports that security and terrorism experts are split in their views of who is responsible.
Spanish papers were quick to pin the blame on Spain's homegrown terrorist group, ETA. ETA which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, the Basque words for "Basque country and Freedom," is a Marxist-Leninist group that was founded in 1959. The group turned to terrorist in 1968 and over the years has killed a total of 850 people in Spain.

Germany's Deutsche Welle reports that on Friday, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio reiterated her government's belief that ETA is responsible for the attacks. "We have very strong leads," Palacio told a French radio station. And Reuters reports that a German intelligence source says "We're assuming a greater probability that ETA was responsible."

But key Basque politicians almost immediately denied ETA was involved. The Independent reports that Arnaldo Otegi, leader of ETA's now banned political wing, insisted that ETA had nothing to do with the attack. This is significant, because Basque leaders have not issues such statements with previous ETA attacks. "It's not ETA's method of working," said Julen de Madariaga, ETA's founder and former leader, who later denounced violence. He also said it would be unlike the group to attack busy, working-class areas. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that the bombings were atypical of ETA's past practices.

ETA has never made civilians indiscriminate targets on the scale of Thursday's bombings. Its highest known death toll was 21 in June of 1987, when it attacked a Barcelona supermarket in what it later termed a "mistake." The group has often telephoned warnings about imminent strikes, but Spain's Interior Minister said yesterday that there was no alert before the Madrid train attacks.
But if it wasn't ETA, who would have carried out such an attack?
The Toronto Star reports Friday that despite the lack of hard evidence, intelligence experts in the United States have quickly moved toward the consensus that the attack was sponsored or carried out by Al Qaeda.

"There was an outside influence on this attack," said Tom Sanderson, a terrorism expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. "I am fairly confident we will find this is the work of an Al Qaeda franchise, or Al Qaeda itself has its hands all over this."
The Miami Herald reports that even if Spanish authorities are leaning toward blaming ETA, Al Qaeda has a long history in Spain, and has many reasons for targeting the country. The Herald also reports that the Spanish police are ruling out nothing after finding a van with seven detonators and a tape in Arabic. Reuters also reported Friday that a Spanish radio station is saying the detonators were of a type not used by ETA in the past, set off by mobile telephones. TechStationCentral points out that, by its count, the attacks happened exactly 911 days after the 9/11 bombings in the US.
A group called the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade did claim reponsibility for the bombing in the name of Al Qaeda. The group sent a letter sent to the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi saying it had carried out the bombings. Bloomberg News reports that the newspaper's editor, Abdel Bari Atwan, told Sky News that the letter "uses similar language and the same style of Al Qaeda." The Arabic statement also refers to an attack on the US that is almost ready. The statement hasn't been verified as an Al Qaeda message.

CNN reports there are some doubts about these Al Qaeda claims. Intelligence officials have said the group does not speak for Al Qaeda and has been unreliable in the past. CNN says there is question as to whether it exists at all beyond one person with a computer and a fax machine. (For instance, the 'group' claimed last year that it was behind the power blackouts in North America.)

Another connection being explored is an Al Qaeda-ETA connection. Spanish authorities, who have aggressively hunted Al Qaeda figures in Spain, say they have never seen signs of links between the groups, who have almost nothing in common. But the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says such an unusual alliance can't be ruled out.

Counter-terrorism experts around the world are looking at the possibility that there was a kind of collusion between a violent, fanatical, splinter group of ETA and extremists from outside ... normally Al Qaeda would not work with non-Muslims, as they do not trust them. But Al Qaeda is not a fixed organization, it is a shadowy phenomenon, and it is possible that there are people sympathetic to them, perhaps from the North African community in Spain, who have worked with them.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that some terrorists experts believe that, even if ETA is ultimately proved reposnsible for the attacks, it probably got some of its ideas from Al Qaeda. "They have perhaps taken Al Qaeda as a role model ... they've seen that's how to get media attention," said Joachim Krause, a security expert at Kiel University in Germany.
Regardless of who is responsible for the attacks, Reuters reports, European newspapers say that Thursday's bombings in Spain mean that "terrorism is no longer a spectator sport" in Europe.

"The mass terror of Madrid was aimed at the heart of Spain, but we're all in the crosshairs of terrorism," wrote Germany's mass circulation Bild. "Who is still safe today? Terror is like a hydra with a thousand heads."... Fear of mass attacks was no longer the preserve of the Americans, said Italian daily La Repubblica in an editorial. "Whoever thought the American 'devils' were the only ones in the sights of Islamic terrorism was wrong. We are all in the same boat."

8m people march [jpg]
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