Friday, March 12, 2004

One thing that struck me about news of the Madrid bombings -- apart from the so-close-to-home shock of it -- was that people were immediately blamed ETA, despite the fact that ETA's single deadliest attack in its history was an attack on a Barcelona supermarket that killed 21 people -- an attack for which they later apologized.

You'd be way out of line to read this as some sort of defense of ETA. There is no defense of ETA, period. But ETA's speciality has always been assasinations and kidnappings with the occasion car bombing. Nothing like this. Multiple, coordinated, simultaneous attacks with no prior warning, designed to kill as many people as possible? Call me naive, but isn't there another big terror group that likes blowing shit up and killing lots of people? One with ambitions to reclaim Spain for the caliphs? I'm certainly no expert, but for this not-too-knowledgable observer, Al Qaeda certainly entered my mind.

Last night I was having an exchange of this kind with my editor at Slate (I was scheduled to write one of those European press reviews, but got bumped due to my lack of Spanish skills -- fair enough in these circumstances) when news emerged that Spanish authorities had found a van with Arabic tapes of the Koran along with detonators. Plus, a little-known Islamic group has apparently claimed responsibility to a London paper.

In any case, trying to look detachedly at the reaction 24 hours on, I think you might be seeing an Oklahoma City phenomenon going on -- in reverse. Most Americans immediately assumed that job was the work of foreign terrorists, only to have it later emerge that the threat was homegrown. Still too early to say, of course, but the immediate attribution of blame for Madrid -- if not wrong -- now looks to have been a bit hasty.

Here are some interesting tidbits about the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, the group claiming responsibility for the attack in the name of Al Qaeda. This group also claimed responsibility for those Istanbul bombings last year -- another too-close-to-home shocker -- meaning it could be Al Qaeda's deadliest wing targeting European soil. Then again they also claimed responsibility for the U.S. power blackout, so it could easily just be some freak with a fax machine.

For news from the Spanish street, go no further than Iberian Notes:

Investigations eavesdropping at the local bars determined just minutes ago that for male Spaniards who hang out in crappy bars in Barcelona, 100% are convinced of the ETA-Al Qaeda-PP-Aznar-Bush-Illuminati conspiracy to do dirt to the world in general and themselves in particular. The "Aznar fucked up and got us on America's side and now Al Qaeda has bombed us and it's America's fault" theme is rather a constant.
Iberian Notes, by the way, was among the first to write with certainty, "Note to Americans: This is NOT an Al Qaeda job. It's the ETA." The writer remained convinced of this as of yesterday afternoon.

More at Fistful of Euros.


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