Note said to be from al-Qaida warns of new attacks in Spain

Self-described spokesman says troops must pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan

April 06, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MADRID, Spain - Spanish authorities are giving credence to a letter received from a self-described al-Qaida spokesman threatening more attacks like the Madrid train bombings unless Spain withdraws its troops "completely and immediately" from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The letter is seen as credible in that it could have been sent by a cell with a certain relation to al-Qaida that could have been involved in the attacks," a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said yesterday. "We do not think this is a joke or the exaggeration of some group seeking notoriety."

The letter, handwritten in Arabic and sent by fax on Saturday to the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC, claims responsibility for the "blessed attacks of March 11" that left 191 people dead. It also asserted that the partially assembled bomb found Friday on a high-speed train line was a warning intended to demonstrate the group's strength.

"We placed bombs on the high-speed line near Toledo and we could have made the trains that passed there Thursday or Friday blow up," said the letter, translated and printed in ABC on Monday, "but we didn't because our objective is only to warn you and show that we have the force and capability - with permission of Allah the Highest - to attack whenever we want and however we want."

Madrid's mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, announced additional security measures yesterday as part of a nationwide alert since the discovery of the bomb on the high-speed rail linking Madrid and Seville. For the first time, the municipal police will patrol the subways throughout the capital, he said, and a remote baggage check has been suspended at the bustling Nuevos Ministerios transport hub.

Until now, the investigation has pointed to the Morocco-based Islamic Combatant Group, which the authorities linked to last year's suicide attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed more than 40 people. Acting Interior Minister Angel Acebes said that now the focus had shifted to "connections with international terrorist groups."

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry identified a fourth man killed in the suicide explosion as Jamal Ahmidan of Morocco, who was considered a main suspect in the Madrid attacks. Ahmidan is one of six men named in a European arrest warrant issued last week in connection with the bombings.

According to the warrant, Ahmidan rented the house outside Madrid where the authorities say fingerprints, explosive traces and other evidence in the March 11 bombings was found. The warrants identified the rundown house, in the town of Morata de Tajuna, as the site where bombs were made.

The letter's purported author, Abu Dujana Al Afgani, who described himself as the spokesman in Europe for al-Qaida, is believed to be the same person who appeared in a videotape claiming responsibility for the Madrid attacks, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The video, found two days after the attacks in a garbage can near a Madrid mosque, said the train bombings were revenge for the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq.

The Spanish government has been one of the staunchest supporters of the American-led war in Iraq, despite the opposition of the majority of the population. The country has 1,300 troops stationed there.

The newly elected Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has repeated campaign pledges to withdraw the troops by June 30 unless the United Nations takes control of the occupation forces. High-ranking Socialist Party officials have said that Zapatero may send more troops to Afghanistan, however, as a symbol of his commitment to fighting terrorism and a gesture of good will to the United States.

The letter accused the Spanish state of "injustices and aggression against the Muslims," including the plan to send more troops to Afghanistan.

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