LONDON Ñ Western intelligence sources believe Al Qaida employed insurgents from
North Africa for the train bombings in Spain that killed about 200 people.
The sources said Spanish and other European
intelligence and security agencies believe that sleeper cells established by
Al Qaida-aligned groups helped designate the targets and provide logistics
and safe haven for operatives who detonated 10 backpack bombs aboard
commuter trains in Madrid on Thursday. The cells were
established by organizations that stem from Algeria and Morocco and employed
local insurgency operatives, including Basque separatists.
The North African groups believed to have been involved in the Madrid
attacks include the Salafist Jihadiya in Morocco and the Salafist Brigade
for Combat and Call in Algeria. Salafist Jihadiya was said to have been
contracted by Al Qaida for the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca in
which 44 people were killed. Algeria's Salafist Brigade has been regarded as
the chief subcontractor for Al Qaida in Europe and North Africa.
"These attacks were the result of years of liasion and planning between
North African groups aligned with Al Qaida and Basque separatists and other
local terrorist operatives," a European intelligence source said. "Everybody
knew a major attack was coming, but nobody expected it to be this lethal."
On Thursday, an Al Qaida cell, called "Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades,"
asserted that the bombings in Madrid constituted an Islamic attack against
U.S. allies in Europe, Middle East Newsline reported. The letter termed the strikes "Operation Death
"We have succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and
struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance," the letter, sent to the
London-based Al Quds Al Arabi daily, said. "This is part of settling old
accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against
Islam. Where is America, O [Spain's prime minister] Aznar? Who is going to
protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and other collaborators from us?"
The Abu Hafs group is named after a late Al Qaida commander. Abu Hafs
is a pseudonym of Mohammed Atef, a relative by marriage to Osama Bin Laden
and killed in a U.S missile strike in 2001.
"We bring good news to Muslims of the world that the expected 'Winds of
Black Death' strike against America is now in its final stage," the letter
The Abu Hafs Brigades claimed responsibility for the November 2003
suicide bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey and the August
bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Abu Hafs also claimed
responsibility for Monday's suicide bombing of a Masonic Lodge in Istanbul.
At first, the Spanish government attributed the explosions to ETA, a
Basque separatist group. But on late Thursday Spanish Interior Minister
Angel Acebes appeared to confirm the assessment of Western intelligence
agencies that Al Qaida was involved in the blasts.
Acebes said a van found near the scene of the bombings contained seven
detonators and an Arabic tape with verses from the Koran. "I have just given
instructions to the security forces not to rule out any line of
investigation," Acebes said.
Intelligence sources said most Western agencies regard Abu Hafs as a
fictitious group used by Al Qaida in its psychological warfare campaign
against the West. They said Abu Hafs has been used by Al Qaida in attacks
coordinated with local insurgency cells.
Spain, which broke up an Islamic insurgency network linked to the Al
Qaida strikes against the United States in 2001, has been a target of Osama
Bin Laden since last year, apparently because of Madrid's participation in
the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq, the sources said. A Bin Laden
message on Oct. 18, 2003 cited Spain as a target along with Australia,
Britain, Italy, Japan and Poland.
U.S. intelligence analysts dismissed the prospect that ETA was
behind the Madrid bombings. They said ETA appeared to lack the
capability and motivation for such an attack, but added that an emerging
leadership was believed to be forming links with Islamic insurgency groups
with Al Qaida.
"Neither ETA nor Grapo [another Spanish insurgency group] maintains the
degree of operational capability it once enjoyed," the State Department said
in its annual report on terrorism released in 2004. "The overall level of
terrorist activity is considerably less than in the past, and the trend
appears to be downward."