Monday, December 10, 2007

About the Conspiracy Theory

The Daily Star (Lebanon) has published an article of opinion by James Badcock that takes aim at the favorite conspiracy theory by Basque-phobes Jose Miguel Guardia and Joe Gandelman.

Here you have it:

In Spain, missing the terrorism forest for the trees
By James Badcock
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Last October 31, a Spanish court passed verdict on 29 suspected terrorists and their associates accused of the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004, in which 191 people were killed and over 1,800 injured.

Two men of Moroccan descent, Jamal Zougam and Othman al-Gnaoui, were found guilty of 191 counts of murder, while a former miner from Asturias, Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, was sentenced as an accomplice for supplying the explosives he helped to steal from his old workplace. In all, 21 people, mainly of North African origin, were convicted, while eight, mostly Spanish citizens accused of involvement in the explosives trail, were acquitted of all charges.

With the remaining bombing suspects all considered to have died in suicide bombings - seven of them in a flat in the Madrid suburb of Leganes, and at least two more in Iraq - the sentence seemed sufficiently conclusive to bring to a close the most acrimonious period in Spanish politics since the death of General Francisco Franco.

However, the initial reaction of the Popular Party (PP), whose period of government came to an end three days after the 2004 bombings, was one of defiance. While Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero declared that the Spanish justice system, in holding a macro-trial in the wake of a major jihadist attack, had succeeded where the judiciaries of the United States and the United Kingdom had failed, PP leader Mariano Rajoy insisted he would support "any further investigation into the case."

The pro-PP El Mundo newspaper also vowed to continue its bid to bring to light the true story of who had been behind Madrid's "death trains." The paper has spent three years dredging up flimsy evidence to link the jihadist cell with the Basque terrorist group ETA, to fuel a conspiracy theory that March 11 was nothing less than a coup d'etat perpetrated against the PP administration by an affiliation of Basque separatists, Socialists, and possibly the Moroccan secret services.

Within minutes of the horrific March 11 bombings, members of the then-PP government suggested that ETA had been behind the operation. Three days later Spain was to hold a general election and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar feared a popular backlash against his government's unpopular support for the war in Iraq. The streets filled up with protesters angry with what they saw as a concerted government effort to cover up the truth about the bombings. On March 14, voters ousted the PP in favor of the Socialists. After the polls, Aznar famously declared in the parliamentary commission set up to investigate the March 11 attacks that the masterminds were not to be found in "distant deserts or remote mountains." He has repeated the claim since last October's verdict.

Indeed, Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez's judgment left an opening for perverse interpretation. Rabei Osman (known as "the Egyptian") was acquitted and another alleged mastermind, Hassan al-Haski, brought in from Belgium as a jihadist big-hitter, was only found guilty of belonging to an armed organization. This was latched onto by conspiracy theorists as evidence that the real plotters had yet to be brought to justice.

Today, however, the PP has finally signaled it is time to look forward to next March's election rematch. Amid all the hype of a plot, the real message of the March 11 bombing aftermath may have been missed. What the sentence demonstrated was the ease with which jihadists can operate within a modern European society, where funding through work or small-time crime is easy to come by and communication via the internet is both reliable and discreet. Recent police investigations have underlined how extensive the loose network of Al-Qaeda-inspired militants is in Spain - a country singled out by Al-Qaeda leaders, most notably Ayman al-Zawahri, for reconquest under its former Islamic name of "Al-Andalus."

In 2004 an Algerian was extradited from Switzerland to Spain over a plot to attack with a truck-bomb the High Court where leaders of the original Spanish Al-Qaeda branch, led by a Syrian known as Abu Dahdah, had been taken for trial. Plots to blow up buildings in Barcelona have also been exposed, as has a suspected plan to attack a NATO naval base in Rota, Andalusia. Around 140 Islamist militants are currently in Spanish prisons from a total of 375 arrests of terrorist suspects since 2001.

Spanish politicians would do well to unite in order to face down the very real threat of Al-Qaeda rather than squabble over unproven conspiracies.

James Badcock is freelance writer based in Spain who specializes in North African and Middle Eastern affairs. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

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