Five arrested in Madrid train attacks

3 Moroccans, 2 Spaniards with Indian passports held

`We should not rule out anything'

Videotape saying al-Qaida is responsible was found

March 14, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MADRID, Spain - Authorities arrested three Moroccans and two Spaniards with Indian passports in the capital yesterday in connection with train bombings that killed 200 people, and the country's interior minister said early today that a videotape claiming al-Qaida responsibility for the attack had been found.

The interior minister, Angel Acebes, said he could not confirm the authenticity of the videotape and said investigators have not determined whether those arrested were tied to al-Qaida. He left open the possibility that Basque separatists, who he originally had said were "undoubtedly" responsible for the attacks, were somehow involved.

The arrests came as Spaniards began burying those killed in the attacks and as they prepared to head to the polls today to vote for a new parliament, which will determine a new prime minister.

The suspects "could be related to Moroccan extremist groups," Acebes said at a news conference last night that was broadcast on Spain's television stations. "But we should not rule out anything. Police are still investigating all avenues. This opens an important avenue."

At a second news conference called after midnight, Acebes announced the discovery of the videotape, which was found after an Arabic-speaking man called a television station to say where it could be located.

Acebes said a man speakingin Arabic on the tape and identifying himself as the military spokesman of al-Qaida in Europe claimed that the group was responsible for the attacks.

"We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly 2 1/2 years after the attacks on New York and Washington," said the man, according to a translation of the tape. "It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies."

The speaker was identified as Abu Dujan al Afghani. Acebes said he was not known to authorities in Spain.

Earlier yesterday, police said they were hunting for three men who were said to be seen wearing ski masks and carrying backpacks toward the trains that were bombed. The connection between those arrested and the three being sought was unclear.

In addition to the five people arrested, police said two Spaniards were being questioned.

A Moroccan government spokesman identified the three Moroccans as Jamal Zougam, 30; Mohamed Bekkali, 31; and Mohamed Chaoui, 34. The government said all three were from northern Morocco but gave no other details.

All of the arrests were linked to a mobile telephone and charge card for it found in a gym bag filled with explosives that failed to detonate aboard one of the bombed trains, he said.

Hours after Thursday's attacks, in which 10 bombs exploded on three trains and at least one station, police discovered detonators and an audiotape of verses from the Quran in a van near the station where the trains originated.

In response to a reporter's question, Acebes declined to absolve the Basque separatist group ETA from blame, saying that the investigators will focus on learning the motives and connections of the suspects. ETA has denied any connection to the bombings.

"Now they will have to be grilled and interviewed," he said at his first news conference. "We still must not rule out anything. We need to allow the police to carry out their investigation unhindered."

What effect the arrests could have on the election is unclear. Polls showed Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party with a narrow lead over the opposition Socialists, but those polls ended - as did campaigning - with Thursday's bombing. Aznar is stepping down after two terms.

Political analysts here have said that if the attacks are pinned on ETA, Aznar's party could be helped because of his tough stance against the group. If al-Qaida is found to be involved in the bombings, they said, Aznar's party could be hurt for having backed the United States in its war with Iraq.

A statement from the interior ministry early this morning said the videotape threatened further attacks for such allegiances.

"This is a response to the crimes that you caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more if God wills it," the man said.

Spain is among the European countries that have been most involved in efforts to dismantle al-Qaida. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Spanish authorities have arrested dozens of suspected al-Qaida members, most of them recent immigrants from North Africa, and many of them Moroccan. Spain was the first country to indict Osama bin Laden in connection with the attacks on the United States.

But Mariano Rajoy, who will succeed Aznar as prime minister if the Popular Party is returned to power, only a few hours before the arrests and the discovery of the videotape were announced, stood by earlier statements that the attackers were homegrown.

"There are certain facts that deep inside me make me believe that ETA was responsible," Rajoy said.

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