From the highly recommended www.stratfor.com
Guau Mi Amigo Alfredo:
Yo quisiera ofrecerle todo la simpatia de mi corazon por lo que se le paso' hoy a tu pais.
The Spanish government has been quick to blame ETA for the March
11 train bombings in Madrid, but the glove doesn't quite fit. If
it was ETA, it would indicate a shift in leadership and/or
operational methodology. It is possible, however, that another
group is behind the attacks.
Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has blamed the March 11
Madrid train bombings on Basque separatist group ETA. ETA's
outlawed political wing, Batasuna, has denied the group was
responsible, blaming the "Arab resistance" reacting to Spain's
military participation in the Iraq war and occupation. Many
aspects of the attack do not fit with ETA's modus operandi, and
the attack could be counterproductive to the group's objective of
greater Basque autonomy or independence.
Although ETA -- or perhaps an offshoot -- certainly cannot be
ruled out as a prime suspect, it is far from clear that Basque
separatists staged the attack. In fact, a growing case can be
made that militant Islamists could be behind it.
But first for ETA: The Basque separatist group clearly has had
its eye on Madrid in recent months. In December 2003, Spanish
police foiled an ETA plot to detonate two bombs aboard two trains
in the Madrid railway station on Christmas Eve -- a plot eerily
similar to the March 11 attack. Two suspected ETA members were
arrested, and the bombs were defused before the trains reached
the station. In late February 2004, Spanish police intercepted a
van driven by an alleged ETA member bound for Madrid, carrying a
cargo of more than 1,100 pounds of explosives that authorities
said was part of a plan to detonate a bomb in the capital before
the March 14 national elections.
These interdictions could have had several results. They could
have demonstrated to ETA that the long-running crackdown by the
Aznar government resulted in critical operational leaks. ETA
might have identified those leaks and plugged them. The group
also might have decided to keep a much tighter grip on planning
for this operation and change its habit of offering advance
warning of attacks, which it might now consider too risky. ETA's
nonhierarchical structure -- with a diffuse collection of largely
self-sufficient cells -- could have prompted a certain cell to
launch the operation without the knowledge of the central
leadership to lessen the chance of interdiction.
Second, the interdictions and wider roundup of ETA operatives and
leadership over the past several years might have generated a new
group of younger, bolder and more radicalized Basque
nationalists, a new generation of ETA leadership or a new, more
radical cell working apart from the more traditional leadership.
More than 400 ETA members are in Spanish prisons, and more than
200 suspected ETA members have been arrested in the past two
years. However, ETA has continued to gain new recruits through
Batasuna. That could help explain the change of MO toward larger-
scale attacks that cause indiscriminate casualties.
ETA cells are not known to carry out attacks independently of
orders from above; the group has always been disciplined in this
regard. Cells haven't worked freelance in the past, but recent
victories by Spanish and French security forces might have forced
them to change tactics. Frustration with the interdictions and
perceptions among Basque extremists of a wider ETA failure in
recent years also could have broken down organizational
discipline, leading to splinter groups similar to the IRA and
Real IRA in Ireland.
Still, there is something not quite right about the ETA
explanation. If it is ETA, the Madrid attacks will fundamentally
damage the cause of Basque nationalists/separatists. In fact, the
attack could be so counterproductive as to ultimately undermine,
weaken and isolate ETA. If the attack can be pinned on the
Basques, it will give the current and future Spanish government
all the leeway it needs to crack down even more harshly on ETA.
Meanwhile, anyone who speaks out on behalf of the Basques or
their dream of greater autonomy likely would be labeled a
The nationalists want greater political autonomy, and Basque
leaders have been moving in that direction, absorbing Basques who
might support ETA politically into the Basque mainstream. They
were pushing among other things for a Basque referendum on
whether they should have more political autonomy or full
independence. Rather than galvanizing the Basque country around
those independence ambitions, the attacks will horrify most
Basques and will make the nationalist divisions in the region
even worse. This could bleed support away from radical
nationalist Basque groups and strengthen the Basque center, which
is pushing for full autonomy bordering on -- but not quite
reaching -- full independence. This also could cut into the
group's local financial support.
Finally, it could undermine any sympathies for Basque ambitions
among other mildly separatist regions in Spain, including
Catalonia and Galicia.
In its 45-year history, hundreds of ETA attacks have resulted in
only about 800 deaths. With the death toll from March 11 up to
186 (with more than 1,000 confirmed injured), that number has
jumped by 25 percent in one day. In short, these attacks went
much too far to support ETA's goals, undermining a historical
pattern designed to keep pressure on Madrid without completely
alienating itself from the rest of Spain, or at least the
nationalists in the Basque country. This attack will completely
undermine that pattern.
There are other suspects. The Islamist Web site Jihadunspun.com,
or JUS, reported March 11 that a previously unknown Islamist
group calling itself Lions of al-Mufridoon claimed responsibility
for blasts. The group is said to consist of Moroccan, Algerian
and Tunisian operatives linked to al Qaeda.
We should note that there is a discrepancy in the JUS report: The
name used in the body of the text is "Lions of al-Mufridoon," but
it was spelled "Lions of al-Muwahidoun" in the headline on the
JUS homepage. "Al-Muwahidoun" means "the Unitarians" (a typical
Wahhabi/Neo-Salafist term); it is a known group that was blamed
for the May 17, 2003, bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Stratfor
has not confirmed this report and is looking into the
discrepancy, and the involvement of Islamists remains
Still, there is reason to believe Islamists could be behind the
attack. A Russian military intelligence source told Stratfor that
foreign Islamist fighters caught in Chechnya and interrogated by
Russian forces over the past three months have said repeatedly
that Islamists of North African origin who have received combat
and explosives experience in Chechnya were planning attacks in
Europe against Spanish and Italian targets. Among those captured
in Chechnya were a Moroccan and two Algerians -- similar to the
description of the Lions of al-Mufridoon.
Although Russian intelligence is known for seeing Chechen
connections in any number of places, the Morocco-Algeria-Tunisia
link makes sense on several levels. Spain's large ethnic Arab
population -- which originates from these three countries --
would make it easier for Islamist extremists to operate there.
Apart from the United Kingdom, Spain was the staunchest supporter
of the war against Iraq, raising its profile among Islamists
looking to strike back at the United States and its allies. On
Nov. 29, seven Spanish intelligence agents traveling in a convoy
near Baghdad were shot and beaten to death, and a Spanish
diplomat -- who was also an intelligence officer -- was
assassinated Oct. 9 near his residence in the Iraqi capital.
Spain also has been mentioned explicitly in the most recent
statements by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
There are similarities between the Chechen attacks and the Madrid
bombing as well, suggesting a conceivable tactical/training
connection. Chechens often target trains, most recently in the
Moscow metro bombing Feb. 6. In addition to that attack, there
have been several regular and suburban trains bombed in Russia's
If trains become a target of choice for Islamists looking to
wreak havoc on Europe, it would spell real trouble for a
continent that depends on its rail network for travel and
commercial transport. The Spanish rail system will be disrupted
for weeks as Spain initiates new security procedures. Next door,
France also has a dark cloud hanging over its rail system as a
shadowy group calling itself AZF claims to have planted
underground bombs on French rail lines. Down the road, Europe has
the Greek Olympics to worry about: All trains to Athens run
through the less-than-secure Balkans.
New Claim for Train Bombings a Clue to Al Qaeda's Capabilities?
March 11, 2004 2359 GMT
The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades has claimed responsibility for the March 11 bomb attacks on trains in Madrid, which left nearly 200 dead and almost 1,500 wounded. The jury is still out on who is actually responsible, but if this group was behind them, it would mean al Qaeda retains the capability to launch attacks in the West. The letter claiming responsibility also mentions that an impending attack on the United States is "90 percent ready" for launch.
Kataib Abu Hafs al-Masri (the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades), a prominent group with known links to al Qaeda, sent a five-page e-mail and fax to the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi on March 11, claiming responsibility for the Madrid train bombings.
The claim is unverified, but if true it indicates that al Qaeda retains operational assets in the West -- of which the Brigades are a critical element. Perhaps coincidentally, the attack occurred exactly six months after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri included Spain on their list of targets in separate statements.
Part of the al-Masri statement read, "We announce the good news for the Muslims in the world that the strike of the black wind of death, the expected strike against America, is now at its final stage -- 90 percent ready -- and it is coming soon, by God's will." The group threatened other U.S. allies and taunted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, saying, "Aznar, where is America? Who will protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and the others from us?"
Al-Masra claimed its "death squad" had infiltrated "one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain," and successfully executed "Operation Death Trains" in Madrid. The reason given was to settle "old accounts" with Spain -- a reference to the Spanish inquisition and Spain's contemporary alliance with the United States.
The group is named after al Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef (also known as Abu Hafs), who was killed when a predator drone fired a Hellfire missile at a building in Jalalabad in November 2001. Abu Hafs was a former Egyptian police officer and a member of the group of Egyptians who joined al Qaeda in the mid-1990s under the leadership of al-Zawahiri. His daughter is married to one of bin Laden's sons. The group signs its statements as "Kataib Abu Hafs al-Masri (Tandheem al Qaeda)," meaning Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades (al Qaeda Organization).
Stratfor predicted in summer 2003 that al Qaeda's management in the West remained intact, and that the group could still attack Western targets. Al-Masri has been either directly responsible for or affiliated with groups behind a string of attacks in Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Turkey and now possibly in Spain. It would appear to have an extended intercontinental reach and is perhaps the operational arm of al Qaeda, due to current circumstances -- namely the necessity for al Qaeda's leadership to remain hidden.
Spain: Jihadist Group Lays Claim to Train Attacks
March 11, 2004 2116 GMT
The Spanish government appears to be convinced that the Basque separatist group ETA is behind the train bombings in Madrid that left 193 dead and 1,430 injured. However, jihadunspun.com, a Web site sympathetic to militant Islamist causes, reported that a jihadist group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Web site is the only source of information about the group -- whose name appears to contain a discrepancy.
Jihadunspun.com's (JUS) news desk reported March 11 that a hitherto unknown group, "the Lions of al-Mufridoon," has claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks on trains in Madrid on March 11. JUS added that the militant Islamist group is said to be composed of operatives from three North African countries -- Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia -- and is suspected to have links to al Qaeda.
While Madrid seems determined to place the blame on the Basque separatist movement ETA, it cannot be ruled out that the deadly explosions could be the work of a European-based jihadist cell tied to al Qaeda. However, Stratfor has not detected the normal "chatter" on jihadist Internet chat sites that normally follows a militant Islamist attack.
JUS's report is important because it contains two separate names for the group claiming responsibility for the bombings.
On the JUS homepage, the name of the militant group is "Lions of al-Muwahidoun," but the name used in the body of the report on the bombings is "Lions of al-Mufridoon." This might be nothing more than a typographical error, but the fact that "al-Muwahidoun" is the name of a known al Qaeda linked group makes that unlikely.
The implications of the two names are interesting. The word "al-Mufridoon" is from the root word "f-r-d" and is a derivative of the word "fard," which means "obligation." This would indicate that "al-Mufridoon" are those who do their best to fulfill their (religious) obligations. There is no additional information available on this group.
"Al-Muwahidoun," on the other hand, means "The Unitarians" (a typical Wahhabi/Neo-Salafist term) and is the name of a group with a prior record of militant activity. It has been blamed for the May 17, 2003, blasts in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The group consists of militants who fought at Tora Bora, the cave complex in Afghanistan, in December 2001, and later made their way to Saudi Arabia. Based on its record of activity, al-Muwahidoun is a Saudi-specific group.
Despite the discrepancy in names, it remains possible that a militant Islamist group could be responsible for the train attacks. If this is the case, then it signals a shift of focus for al Qaeda-inspired jihadists. More attacks elsewhere in Europe could follow.
Spain Attacks Tied to Upcoming Elections?
March 11, 2004 2359 GMT
If Islamic militants perpetrated the March 11 attacks in Madrid -- the responsible party or parties have not been identified -- they might have been seeking to influence the outcome of the country's national elections set for March 14. If so, they miscalculated. If Spain's populace becomes convinced that the attackers were Muslims, whoever is elected likely will align Spain even more with the United States in the global war on terrorism.
Spain's main political parties suspended campaigning for the March 14 general elections after at least 10 bombs exploded on four Madrid commuter trains during the morning rush hour. They gave no indication the elections would be postponed, although Spain's central and regional governments likely will redouble security for weeks to come.
Leaders of the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Spanish Workers Socialist Party (PSOE) condemned the perpetrators of the worst attack since the end of Gen. Francisco Franco's dictatorship in 1975 as "scum and criminals." Leaders in both main parties also agreed the attacks likely were carried out by the Basque separatist group ETA, although two Islamist militant groups also have claimed responsibility and no official determination has yet been made.
If ETA was behind the attacks, it might have assured the re-election of the incumbent PP, which under departing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar implemented a tough security policy against the Basque separatist group. If ETA's goal was to weaken the PP at the polls or uphold the separatist cause, it likely achieved the opposite results. PP -- and even the PSOE if it wins -- would adopt even harsher measures against ETA, and the cause of Basque independence would be buried for years.
While ETA is the Spanish government's principal suspect, a previously unknown group that calls itself the Lions of al-Mufridoon, or Lions of al-Muwahidoun, reportedly has claimed credit for the multiple bomb attacks. A second group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, also has claimed responsibility.
If Islamist militants were responsible, was the timing of the attack only three days before Spain's national elections a coincidence?
Islamic militant groups like al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah have not shown any particular preference for attacking on symbolic dates. Instead, attacks have been launched based on expediency -- when everything came together at the right time for the attackers, who then immolated themselves with their victims. It is also possible that if Islamists carried out the bombings, one of their goals was to influence the elections.
Voter surveys conducted as recently as last week show the ruling PP headed for a third consecutive victory in national elections with Aznar's handpicked successor, Mariano Rajoy. PSOE candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is in second place. The PP is expected to capture approximately 44 percent of the vote and win between 162 and 172 seats in the 350-member National Assembly, compared to the 183 seats it won in the 2000 elections. It would not have an absolute majority and would have to negotiate coalitions, most likely with nationalist groups in Catalunia and Galicia. The PSOE is expected to capture about 38 percent of the vote and about 141 seats, up 16 seats from the 125 it won in 2000.
The PP and PSOE are not that far apart in terms of the programs they are offering Spanish voters. Rajoy has pledged to maintain Aznar's policies, except "slightly better." Rodriguez Zapatero also has promised more economic reforms and policies to attract foreign investment, create jobs and improve living standards. Both candidates have promised to give Spain a stronger voice in the European Union and continue the Spanish economic "reconquista" of Latin America.
The only issue on which Rajoy and Rodriguez Zapatero differ radically is Spain's alignment with the United States in the global war on terrorism. Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to bring Spanish troops in Iraq home immediately if he is elected. Most Spaniards, even longtime PP supporters, bitterly opposed Aznar's support for the United States in the Iraq war. One of the reasons Aznar retired from Spanish politics was to prevent that bitterness from tainting the electoral prospects of Rajoy and the incumbant PP.
If Rajoy wins, Spain would remain aligned with the United States against Islamist militant groups. If Rodriguez Zapatero won, Spain would disengage from the U.S.-led war. If Islamists attacked Madrid deliberately only hours before national elections, perhaps they hoped it would collapse support for the PP and boost the PSOE's chances. If so, they committed a gross miscalculation.
The countries of the Arab Islamic world tend to be riven with fractures easily exploited by outsiders. This is not to belittle Arab societies, merely to point out that the West -- comprised of nation-states that have more social glue -- usually reacts to outside threats by closing ranks, not shattering into groups guided by ethnic or sectarian interests. The exceptions are states on the fringe of the West, such as in the Balkans, where the ideas of nation (ethnic identification) and state (political entity) do not coincide.
The popular response in Spain to the tragedy likely will be an intense -- and sustained -- burst of nationalism and unity. The PP's chances likely have improved following these attacks. However, even if the PSOE were to win, Rodriguez Zapatero likely would not disengage Madrid from the U.S.-led war on terrorism if the Madrid attacks were carried out by Islamists.
If the Spanish populace concludes they were attacked by external Islamist forces, the result will be a Spain even more committed to fighting global terrorism. Islamist groups in Spain will come under intense police and judicial scrutiny, with the National Assembly likely approving even tougher anti-terrorism laws. Anti-terrorism resources focused mainly on the Basque problem likely would be expanded to include covert intelligence operations aimed at ferreting out individuals or organizations that support or sympathize with Islamist militants.
It is also likely, if Islamists were responsible, that Spain's government would lead a forceful charge to compel the European Union to adopt a much tougher approach to battling terrorism. This could bring Madrid into more serious discussion with larger EU powers like France and Germany over the extent to which the EU should align with Washington. Madrid's position, likely to be embraced by the cCntral European countries about to join the union, will be that Brussels must cooperate more broadly with the United States.