Thursday, May 21, 2009

Those That Got Away

Several suspects connected by the Spanish police to the Madrid train bombings have never been captured, as they fled Spain in the aftermath of the bombings. In one or two cases it was thought that the fugitives may have ended up in Iraq. Now it turns out that at least one of these, Mohamed Belhadj, has been living in Syria. This is the person who is accused of having rented the apartment in Leganés that was used as a hideout by the cell responsible for the bombings. Belhadj has now been extradited to his native country, Morocco, and is expected to stand trial in this country for his alleged participation in the bombings. Morocco does not extradite its own citizens to other countries, which explains why Belhadj will not end up on trial in Spain.

Other recent reports have suggested that the escape of the fugitives was not as difficult as might have been thought given the massive investigation launched by the police following the bombings. It seems that another of those who escaped, Daoud Ouhnane, stayed for some time in a house in Santa Coloma de Gramanet (near Barcelona) that was under police surveillance as part of an investigation into Islamist terrorism. Those entering and leaving the building were being secretly filmed, yet Ouhnane was not recognised. This was despite him being one of the most wanted people in Spain at the time. The train bombings were made much easier to carry out as a result of mistakes or incompetence on the part of different police forces, most notably in the area of control over explosives. Nevertheless, it is quite shocking to find that someone wanted for their participation in the attacks can be filmed a short time after in the context of a similar investigation and yet not be identified.

El País - Rubalcaba admite que la Policía filmó pero no identificó a uno de los huidos del 11-M
ABC - Marruecos envía a prisión a Mohamed Belhadj, un presunto implicado en los atentados del 11-M

Reuters - Morocco detains Islamist over links to Madrid bombs

El Haski Loses His Appeal

Hassan el Haski has in the end received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment in Morocco for his alleged participation in the Casablanca bombings of 2003. Although he was initially found not guilty of these charges, a court of appeal in the Moroccan city of Sale has overturned this decision. El Haski is of course one of those sentenced as a result of the Madrid bombings trial.

Marruecos también condena a El Haski a diez años de cárcel

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Madrid Train Bombings....Five Years On

I still remember very clearly the day of the Madrid train bombings, the 5th anniversary passed just last week. The impact of what happened on the 11th March 2004 was tremendous, and even though I was away from my adopted home city at the time I still picked up much of the atmosphere of a city in shock. Then came the reaction, and the subsequent rise in tension as it became clear over the following couple of days that the Spanish government was still trying to maintain that ETA were responsible for the bombings even as clear evidence of Islamist authorship was emerging. I watched live on CNN the footage of the demonstration outside of the headquarters of the governing Partido Popular on the day before the general election; images which I believe many people in Spain never got to see.

That day, March 14th, was a turning point. The administration led by Jose Maria Aznar was thrown out of office on a wave of indignation over their attempts to mislead public opinion for short term electoral benefit. That should have been the end of attempts to use the Madrid bombings for political advantage. Unfortunately it was just the beginning. On the same day that the outgoing caretaker government handed over power to the new administration the first article of what were to develop into the conspiracy theories about the bombings appeared in El Mundo. That marked the beginning of a still unfinished campaign that seeks to use the bombings as an instrument of political revenge for the election result that followed.

Now conspiracy theories surrounding terrorist attacks are common, particularly in cases when many of the perpetrators are dead or missing. The difference in the case of Spain is that the conspiracy theorists had the full backing of the principal opposition party and the second biggest selling daily newspaper in the country. You have to try and imagine a situation where the Democrats and any major media outlet accuse the Bush administration of organising 9-11. Or where the Conservatives in Britain claim that the 2005 bombings in London were the work of an alliance between Tony Blair, the IRA and foreign intelligence services. In short, the reaction of those who were caught out trying to manipulate public opinion was to try and do more of the same; but on a bigger scale!

I’d never witnessed anything quite like it anywhere. I know of course that there are those who regard a major terrorist attack as a political opportunity, there is sadly no shortage of examples, but the campaign organised in Spain was still quite shocking. There was a sustained attempt to discredit both the investigation into the bombings and the subsequent trial, the objective always being to sow the maximum doubt possible about the authorship of the attacks. It failed, in the sense that the trial proceeded and that sentences were handed down as recorded on this blog. It succeeded in the sense that many people today in Spain have accepted at least some of the grotesque distortion of events sold by the conspiracy theorists. In the process, those behind these theories have created the kind of sectarian divide where some victims of the bombings are denied funding from the regional government of Madrid because they refuse to subscribe to the conspiracy theories. Nothing is too shameful for those responsible for such decisions; they still turn out to “commemorate” each anniversary.

Things have quietened down since the general election of 2008, when the opposition PP finally realised that accusing the Spanish Prime Minister of complicity with terrorists wasn’t going to be their route back to power. Since then, the media outlets behind the conspiracy theories have found themselves marginalised for choosing the wrong side in the PP’s internal power struggles. The foot soldiers of the campaign, the Peones Negros, have been reduced to a rump grouping that spend their days bemoaning the inability of the Spanish people to rise up against an imagined alliance between the left and regional nationalists to destroy the country.

But then came the anniversary. El Mundo could think of no better way to mark it than handing over their front page to Luis del Pino, leader of the Peones Negros, so that he could treat us to more examples of his particular journalistic technique. Del Pino’s big scoop was that Jamal Zougham (convicted as one of those who placed the bombs on the trains) had been in the gym the night before the bombings, when according to Del Pino he should have been busy preparing the bombs for the next day. Therefore he must be innocent. That’s about the standard of the conspiracy theories these days. There are also still books being published suggesting, but of course at no point demonstrating, the existence of a hidden hand behind the bombings. The now thoroughly discredited attempts to implicate ETA in the bombings have been given a new twist by the chess players, so very, very clever were the true perpetrators that they left false clues pointing toward ETA involvement.

This blog was never really intended to be an account of the train bombings, although obviously it has been necessary to enter into occasionally minute detail on aspects of what happened 5 years ago. However, the main focus has always been on what drove me to create it in the first place, the political abuse of terror. The blog isn’t quite finished yet, there are still trials taking place with a direct or indirect relation to what happened in Madrid. Also, there are a few posts waiting to be written on some of the myths propagated by those who thought the horrible death of almost 200 people provides a suitable platform for combining politics and business in the same neat package.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

El Haski Found Not Guilty In Morocco

Hassan el Haski, already serving a jail term in Spain for terrorist activities, was found not guilty last week of accusations that he was involved in the Casablanca bombings in 2003. The court in Morocco decided that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. The question now arises of whether El Haski will be allowed to serve the rest of his Spanish sentence in Morocco, his home country. There is an agreement between Spain and Morocco to permit this, but that does not necessarily mean it will be applied in this case.

In another Moroccan trial held in December and directly related to the Madrid bombings, Abdelilah Hriz received a sentence of 20 years imprisonment for membership of a terrorist organisation. The main evidence against him was based on DNA samples which were found in different sites linked to the train bombings.

READ MORE IN ENGLISH: - Madrid train bomb plotter jailed for 20 years

Europa Press - Un tribunal marroquí absuelve a Hasan el Haski, condenado en España por el 11-M
El País - Abdelilá Hriz condenado a 20 años en Marruecos por su participación en el 11-M
Europa Press - Abdelilá Hriz, condenado a 20 años de cárcel en Marruecos por su implicación en los atentados