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Madrid Bombing

March 11, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: For more now on today’s bombings in Madrid, we get two views. Michael Radu is co-chairman of the Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Richard Gardner was U.S. ambassador to Spain under President Clinton. He’s now a professor of law and international organizations at Columbia University.

Michael Radu, the smoke had hardly cleared after the bombings when the leading lights of Spain’s national government were pointing their fingers solidly at ETA, the Basque separatist organization. Now there have been claims by a group fronting for al-Qaida. Who do you think may be suspect in this morning’s bombings?

MICHAEL RADU: I think that the fact that after the initial reaction even the Spanish government became less certain about ETA’s responsibility in this, suggests that we don’t have enough data yet to make a judgment. My personal feeling is that it’s more likely that it was ETA than some Islamic terrorist organization, perhaps Algerian or Moroccan, which are known to be active or to exist in Spain.

But I don’t think we can have the tentative answer for a while. There are arguments on both sides. I think as far as ETA is concerned, the fact that on December 24 of last year and then on February 29 of this year, ETA militants were captured with large amounts of explosives — 500 pounds in one case — trying to place them on trains, suggests that ETA was interested in such operations.

On the other hand, ETA usually did not engage in massive slaughter of civilians, and certainly not in an area which is mostly working class like the one around the train station in Madrid. And insofar as the Islamists are concerned, al-Qaida did take credit for operations which had little or nothing to do before, but on the other hand it’s of course perfectly capable of organizing and doing such well-coordinated operations, as this one proved to be. So we have arguments on both sides.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me turn to Ambassador Gardner. Ambassador, over the years that ETA has been active in Spain, had they ever gone public to say that they were not involved in an operation and denied any responsibility for it, which happened today when members of the political wing of ETA went on radio in Spain and said no, this wasn’t us?

RICHARD GARDNER: I don’t recall that that has ever happened. But let me begin by saying I think all Americans are outraged by this barbaric act against a country which is one of our best and closest allies. The Spaniards have been with us in the war against terrorism and have cooperated magnificently with us after 9/11. Now this is Spain’s 9/11 and we should feel the same solidarity with them that they have shown toward us. And I hope our various services, FBI and CIA, will be assisting them.

I think it’s too soon to say who is responsible. I will say this, that in the past, ETA has normally focused on killing individuals. They have not engaged in indiscriminate acts of this magnitude.

RAY SUAREZ: When you say individuals, what kind of individuals?

RICHARD GARDNER: They have targeted policemen, judges, businessmen, and even tried to kill, as you may remember, Prime Minister Aznar himself. But they don’t normally engage in mass killing of this kind.

Now, it is possible that since the leadership of ETA has been decapitated — they have captured a number of the top leaders — that some of the lower class, lower level thugs are going on a rampage. But I certainly would not exclude that this could be an act of al-Qaida terrorism, and the bulletin that — the announcement that was made in London sounded certainly like al-Qaida, was quite explicit in talking about crusaders, which is the normal phrase that’s used, Jews and crusaders and westerners. And this is, this could be a warning to countries like Spain which are allied with us and if that is al-Qaida, it could mean that Europe and our best friends in Europe will be on the front lines as well as the United States, and it may also prefigure an attack on us. So this is something that is very serious, if it is not ETA.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Radu, when you’ve got conflicting claims, when you’ve got signs pointing to separate groups, does this have to be an either or? There have been rumors around Europe for years of cooperation between European based and North African and Middle Eastern based terror networks.

MICHAEL RADU: Well, of course not. First of all, we know that members of various Islamist terrorist networks live and even thrive in some West European countries, in fact they exist in almost all of them. We also know that some extreme elements of the so-called anti-globalization movement and some radical terrorist groups in Italy like the Red Brigades and the remnants of the Red Brigades have ties and they express sympathy with al-Qaida and its associates. So it is not an either/or.

But we do not have at this point, or at least I don’t have any indication that that is the case with ETA, which in addition of being a separatist organization is also a Marxist/Leninist one, which would add to the ideological differences, but these differences do not preclude cooperation at the tactical level. So, yes, it is perfectly possible that they may have worked together.

But al-Qaida has specifically through al-Zawahiri’s number two and even bin Laden mentioned Spain, Italy and United Kingdom as well as France as its primary European enemies. The United Kingdom, Spain and Italy because of their support for us in the Afghanistan and Iraq operations, France because of the recent legislation banning the Islamic veil. So all of these four countries and perhaps others as well are targeted publicly by al-Qaida, so that only complicates the picture, and as I said from the beginning, we don’t yet have enough information to have a clear answer if it’s possible ever to have a clear-cut answer.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Gardner, have there been peaks and valleys over the last several decades? Have there been intense periods of Basque separatist violence in Spain, and then it goes away for a while?

RICHARD GARDNER: The Basque terrorist problem has been around for 40 years — 40 years the Spanish people have had to live with this problem, just as during my time as ambassador in Italy they had to live with the Red Brigades, the Italians had to live with the Red Brigades. But in the case of Spain it’s gone on for 40 years. And there have been peaks and lows, and there was a period recently in which there was a kind truce, and there weren’t large scale terrorist acts by the Basques, and I had thought really — and based on my recent conversations with Ana Palacio, the very distinguished foreign minister of Spain — I understood that great progress had been made in capturing the Basque leaders, the Basque terrorist leaders. And indeed Mariano Rajoy who has been until recently the minister of interior of Spain deserves a lot of credit for that and he will be the successor to Jose Maria Aznar, if as is overwhelmingly likely, the Partido Popular wins the election on Sunday and he certainly knows a lot about the problem.

But yes it comes and goes. And it’s no accident that if it is ETA that they’re doing it right now on the eve of an election. It’s a direct challenge to Spanish democracy. The king went on television to the Spanish people today and made a most eloquent statement about how since the death of Franco, Spain has become a successful, vibrant democracy and he said no one is going to take that away from us. I think we should stand with the Spanish people in defense of their democracy. They will have their election on Sunday, following a big public demonstration tomorrow of protest by the Spanish people, and our hearts go out to them. It is a terrible thing that has happened there. They’ve been a great ally, and we have to do all we can to help them find out who is responsible and hunt down these terrible killers.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Radu, briefly before we go, do you agree with that analysis, that it makes sense to do an action like this before a national election this coming Sunday when it might help the party that’s been toughest on them?

MICHAEL RADU: Well, I think that this would not be the first time ETA miscalculates? It would be a strength on the Partido Popular and increases its chancing of winning an absolute majority. I have to point out that last year ETA has only managed to kill three people. And in its entire history since ’69 when it started it killed 800. So this is a dramatic departure from ETA’s history and evolution. But then we have a general path in these kinds of organizations that the weaker they become, the more violent they become. So this would fit with a more general path in which ETA itself would be part of.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Radu, Ambassador Gardner, thank you both.

RICHARD GARDNER: Thank you.