Did the March 11 railway bombings in Madrid have anything to do with Spain’s participation in the Iraqi reconstruction? Terrorist propaganda notwithstanding, the facts suggest that they did not. Events both before and since indicate that the bombings are part of a broader campaign, and that withdrawing from Iraq has not enhanced the Spanish people’s security.
There’s no question that the attacks were timed brilliantly for greatest effect — three days before Spain’s national election. Considering that the modus operandi did not fit al Qaeda operatives’ usual pattern of self-immolation, at first there was plausible reason to believe that homegrown extremists may have been responsible. But eventually the atrocities came to be universally viewed as retribution for Spain’s presence in Iraq. This line of thinking would seem to be supported by a videotape which, curiously, was left in a trash bin near the largest mosque in Madrid and found the day before the election. On the tape, according to the Associated Press, an Arabic speaker claimed that the bombings were carried out, “to punish Spain’s backing of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.”
But were they, really? The trouble with this argument is that the terrorist focus on Spain both precedes the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq, and continues after their removal following the election of a new government.
In May 2003, Islamist fanatics bombed five sites — among them, notably, the Spanish social club Casa de España and a Spanish restaurant — in Casablanca, Morocco, killing dozens of people. Considering that Spanish troops would not arrive in the Middle East for another three months, these attacks could not have been motivated by Spain’s “occupation” of Iraq. Moreover, investigators believe that the Casablanca blasts were planned by some of the same agents who carried out the Madrid bombings; and one of the surviving Madrid perpetrators now stands indicted for taking part in the planning for the September 11 attacks in the United States. Iraq is irrelevant.
If the terrorists had intended simply to punish the Spanish people for going to Iraq, then, presumably, the voters’ election of a more pliant government which promised to leave that country should have satisfied them. It had the opposite effect. On April 2 — some three weeks after the Socialist Party’s upset win — an undetonated explosive device was found beneath the tracks on the Madrid-Seville high-speed line. Then, in a handwritten April 3 note faxed to the Spanish daily ABC, a group calling itself “Ansar al-Qaida Europe” claimed responsibility and upped the ante, now demanding that Spain withdraw not only from Iraq, but also from Afghanistan.
In addition, the terror suspects who, surrounded by police, brought down their apartment building in a Madrid suburb on the same day evidently were planning to follow up on the horror of March 11. Ángel Acebes, the interior minister at the time, noted that “They were going to keep on attacking because some of the explosives were prepared, packed, and connected to detonators.”
Despite widespread public opposition to sending troops to Iraq, numerous opinion polls in the weeks prior to the election showed the governing Popular Party running 5-8 points ahead of the Socialists. Although there is little credible evidence to link the March 11 bombings to the situation in Iraq, the psychological connection of the Socialist victory to the attacks is undeniable. Like former boxer Roberto Durán, who once used a certain inglorious phrase to quit a fight, a certain swing group of Spanish voters cried, “¡No más!”
For their pacifist pleadings they were soon rewarded with more swings to the jaw; and in the wake of these the new president, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, speeded up the removal of his country’s troops from Iraq, as if that would do any good. On October 18, Spanish police arrested eight more Islamists, in response to what Agence France-Presse reported was a plan to strike the country’s National Court with an 1,100-pound truck bomb. But the troops are long since gone — why is this still going on?
By and large, anti-war folks are nice people: they don’t like to meddle in other nations’ affairs. But it is a grievous mistake to think that if we’d just leave others alone, ipso facto those others would leave us alone too. Were it that simple, Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan would have led quiet careers in horse husbandry.
Fouad Ajami noted in the Wall Street Journal last March 22 that “Of all the larger countries of the EU [European Union], Spain has been the most sympathetic to Palestinian claims…. With the sole exception of Greece, Spain has shown the deepest reserve toward Israel.” Our sympathy and reserve are not what the Islamists seek. As Saudi Arabia’s leaders have discovered, even the adoption of strict shari’a law and sponsorship of fundamentalist Koranic schools around the globe are not nearly enough to placate the jihadists. Only complete submission to their ideology will do; to believe otherwise is a dangerous fantasy.
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