Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Spain's Reality

If you have a minute or two, go read this though-provoking piece from the New Yorker on Spain's situation vis a vis (literally) Islamic terrorism. There are points to carp and quibble over in it, but a strand in it weaves into something I've been asking. Some people say al Qaida should be treated as a serious international entity with stated rational goals, and not as a set of mad bombers. They say Spain, or the Philippines, would have had no problem with Islamist terror if they had not made the mistake of doing the Americans' bidding in Iraq.

So what was April 2? Read on:

On April 2nd, two weeks after the election, a security guard for the ave, Spain’s high-speed train line, discovered a blue plastic bag beside the tracks forty miles south of Madrid. Inside the bag were twenty-six pounds of Goma-2. Four hundred and fifty feet of cable had been draped across the security fence and attached, incorrectly, to the detonator. Had the bomb gone off when the ave passed by — at a hundred and eighty m.p.h., carrying twelve hundred passengers — the results could have been far more catastrophic than those of March 11th. Spanish citizens asked themselves: If the bombings of March 11th had accomplished the goals set by Al Qaeda, what was the point of April 2nd?

... Had the Madrid cell rested on its accomplishment after March 11th, Al Qaeda would properly be seen as an organization now being guided by political strategists — as an entity closer in spirit to ETA, with clear tactical objectives. April 2nd throws doubt on that perspective. There was little to be gained politically from striking an opponent who was complying with the stated demand: the government had agreed to withdraw troops from Iraq. If the point was merely humiliation or revenge, then April 2nd makes more sense; the terrorists wanted more blood, even if a second attack backfired politically. (The Socialists could hardly continue to follow the terrorist agenda with a thousand new corpses along the tracks.) April 2nd is comprehensible only if the real goal of the bombers was not Iraq but Spain, where the Islamic empire began its retreat five hundred years ago. “Spain is a target because we are the historic turning point,” [Gustavo de] Aristegui [a leader of the Popular Party] said. “After this, they are going to try to hit Rome, London, Paris, and the U.S. harder than they did before.”

And the conclusion:

One of the most sobering pieces of information to come out of the investigation of the March 11th bombings is that the planning for the attacks may have begun nearly a year before 9/11. In October, 2000, several of the suspects met in Istanbul with Amer Azizi, who had taken the nom de guerre Othman Al Andalusi—Othman of Al Andalus. Azizi later gave the conspirators permission to act in the name of Al Qaeda, although it is unclear whether he authorized money or other assistance — or, indeed, whether Al Qaeda had much support to offer. In June, Italian police released a surveillance tape of one of the alleged planners of the train bombings, an Egyptian housepainter named Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, who said that the operation “took me two and a half years.” Ahmed had served as an explosives expert in the Egyptian Army. It appears that some kind of attack would have happened even if Spain had not joined the Coalition — or if the invasion of Iraq had never occurred.

“The real problem of Spain for Al Qaeda is that we are a neighbor of Arab countries — Morocco and Algeria — and we are a model of economy, democracy, and secularism,” Florentino Portero, a political analyst at the Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos, in Madrid, told me. “We support the transformation and Westernization of the Middle East. We defend the transition of Morocco from a monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. We are allies of the enemies of Al Qaeda in the Arab world. This point is not clearly understood by the Spanish people. We are a menace to Al Qaeda just because of who we are.”