At Large

Terror’s Broken Promises

Spain this weekend learned that the jihadis don’t play nice.

By 4.6.04

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This weekend Spain learned what truckling to terrorists will get you: a big bomb on a busy rail line. That's precisely what a Spanish railway worker discovered in a bag under the track at Mocejon, a station close to the town of Toledo -- 26 pounds of dynamite readied to serve its fatal purpose.

But how could that be? After all, the jihadis had promised to play nice. Prior to the election of the Socialist party, a statement released by a group purporting to be al Qaeda said the Islamist brain trust would be content to leave the infidel-infested kingdom of Al Andalus -- that is, er, Spain -- in peace.

Now, with the capitulation-minded Zapatero government in place and eager to deliver on its promise to withdraw the country's 1,300 troops from Iraq, al Qaeda has gotten its wish. Only it has changed its mind about peace.

Imagine that. Ceasefires proffered by fanatics bent on uprooting Western society and imposing a global totalitarian order are not worth the extortionist declarations they're printed on. But then, who could have guessed that the terrorist faithful would show such, well, bad faith?

The Israelis, for one. Pressured this summer by the international community to celebrate the ceasefire, or hudna, declared by Palestinian "militants," Israelis remained decidedly skeptical. They had good reason to be. For the two-month duration of the hudna, Palestinians smuggled arms from Egypt, siphoned cash from Saudi charities, kicked up Jew-hatred in the territories, all the while mapping Israel's destruction. So when Hamas had had enough of this little exercise in strategic moderation, and sent a pair of suicide bombers into a West Bank settlement, where they killed two settlers and wounded 11, the Israelis, though devastated, were hardly surprised.

Spaniards apparently thought they had a better fix on the Islamist psyche. Booting the Aznar government would, they hoped, send terrorists the correct message: Spain is not your enemy. Instead, Spanish authorities spent this weekend securing securing train stations with an armada of helicopters and armored vehicles, while Spanish police stormed Madrid's exurbs searching for armed Moroccan Islamists.

NOT A MONTH AFTER 3-11, Spain seemed taken unawares by the latest burst of terrorism. Even the outgoing Aznar government, always serious about the gravity of the terrorist threat, seemed startled by the steadfastness of the terrorists' commitment. You could hear it in the words of Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes. On Saturday, after tracking a gang of would-be bombers to their hideout, where they proceeded to blow themselves up, Acebes sounded almost surprised as he announced, "They were ready to commit new attacks." (He had that right: Police found 20 pounds of dynamite, 200 detonators, and a belt loaded with 4 pounds of explosives in the blasted flat.)

It would be one small step for common sense if Spanish citizens now would recognize that accepting the fundamentalists' terms will not remove Spain from their crosshairs. If this weekend's narrowly averted tragedy proves anything, it is surely that those who continue to believe in get-out-of-terror-free cards are not playing with a full deck. Prime Minister Zapatero can break with the terror hunters of the Bush administration, retreat lockstep with Europe's appeasers, and whisper sweet surrenders into terrorists' ears, but the terrorists' message is clear: Spain should not expect a pass from the their global onslaught.

Unfortunately, this reality seems not to have dawned on Mr. Zapatero's incoming government. Miguel Angel Moratinos, likely Spain's new foreign minister, said Monday: "We, Germany and France share the same conclusion. We want to turn to the future and not to the past." My Spanish never amounted to much, but let me venture a translation: this whole terrorism thing never happened.

Wiser heads in the new government would do well to review a "planning memo" recently issued on Islamist Web sites. Titled "Targets Inside Cities," it outlines a "military diplomacy, written in blood and decorated with body pieces," singles out a hit list of American, British and Spanish targets, and calls for the cities of "infidels" to be turned into killing fields; it also suggests that one of the reasons Madrid was targeted was to destabilize the European economy. So much for the wishful thinking that it was only Spain's support for U.S. policy that brought the March nightmare upon the country.

Then there is the letter, handwritten in Arabic and published the other day in Spain's ABC newspaper, which demands that Spain cut its ties to the U.S. and immediately pull out of Iraq. "If these demands are not met, we will declare war on you and convert your country into an inferno and your blood will flow like rivers," the letter reportedly said.

FOLLOWING THE SUICIDAL last hurrah of the Morocco terror cell, Spanish authorities sought to assure the citizenry that Spain's terrorist problem perished in the rubble. This is perhaps understandable, considering that Spain is approaching one of the busiest commuter weekends of the year, the Easter holiday. It is, however, rather misguided. Spanish intelligence services say they can link the ringleader of the cell, a Tunisian named Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, to Iraq's al Qaeda splinter group, Ansar al-Islam. Clearly, Spain's terrorism problem is bigger than a few Moroccan radicals.

In a welcome sign, Spanish citizens appear to be coming around to this conclusion. Empty seats on traditionally packed trains seemed to indicate that the country no longer shares the fantasy, espoused by the newly elected Socialist government, that caving in to fanatical demands is any kind of insurance against terrorism. "Even if they catch some of them (bombers), there are always going to be others...If they think they are waging a holy war against Spain, what hope do we have of changing them all?" one commuter lamented to Reuters.

Little hope indeed. But if Spaniards can see the folly of bargaining with terror, then they already have adopted a more clear-eyed view of terrorism than some of their European neighbors. Here is hoping they will never again be taken for a ride.

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About the Author

Jacob Laksin is a writer in New York City.