Terrorism in Europe: Europe's biggest massacre committed by Islamic terrorists decided an election campaign in favour of Spain's Socialists and triggered a far-reaching political realignment on an international level. It also jolted the EU into adopting tighter security measures.

AuteurBucher, Marcel
Fonction The Swiss View

An article published in 'Newsweek' (mid-March) interpreted the tragic attacks on Shiites during this year's Ashura commemoration in Iraq as a sign of weakness, revealing, "unable to launch major attacks on the West ... militant Islam is searching for new enemies and causes." A few days after publication, the massacres in Madrid (on March 11), known as M-11 in Spain, proved the contrary.

Not surprising, because terrorist behaviour has always been unpredictable. But their attacks usually don't achieve the intended objectives, defeating instead the very purpose of the perpetrators. M-11 is the most glaring exception.

Despite the worldwide outrage, the Madrid bombings proved 'successful' beyond the wildest expectations, not least thanks to the behaviour of an old enemy of Islamic radicals, the Spanish government of Prime Minister Aznar, which immediately attempted to pin the blame on ETA, the extremist Basque organisation.

Past Roots to The Present

A few days before the voting on March 14, the ruling PP conservative party's victor)' seemed safely assured And if ETA had been identified as the perpetrator, the Spaniards would most certainly have rallied to Aznar's staunchly anti-ETA government in charge, reelecting it. Why? One of the oldest peoples of Europe with an incomprehensible language, the Basques had always retained special privileges under Spanish rule. But during the Spanish Civil War, German warplanes fighting for General Franco's nationalist army destroyed a sacred Basque town, a fact immortalised by Picasso's painting 'Guernica'.

Aznar's joining President Bush's anti-Iraq coalition early in 2003 had been opposed by about 90 per cent of the population. As a country, whose glorious Arab past is still evidenced by buildings like the Alhambra, Spaniards did not wish to antagonise their Mediterranean neighbours. Huge anti-war demonstrations rallied millions in 2003, as did also happen in Italy. Once the Islamic connection emerged more clearly, people felt cheated and betrayed by Aznar's government, blaming it for the blood shed by Madrid citizens for Spains participation in the Iraqi 'adventure', not endorsed by a UN mandate.

Bombed out of Office

As a consequence and to the surprise of the whole world, the PP was ousted and Zapatero's Socialists voted in. Zapatero immediately blamed Bush and Blair for their "misguided" Iraq policy, advising Spain's intention to withdraw its 1,300 troops as soon as possible from Iraq. (Late in March he was seconded by the Italian Prodi, President of the EU Commission and possibly the future prime minister of Italy, who recommended withdrawal of the Italian troops from Iraq, qualifying the Bush-led invasion as "illegal".) Zapatero called Aznar's pro-Bush decision "unilateral, showing disdain for the citizens". Understandably, the Bush administration did not like the Spanish turnabout in contrast to the Abu Hates Al-Masri Brigades (a group resurfacing more in the recent months after claiming responsibilities for many attacks in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad...

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