Saturday, July 24, 2004

TWO HOURS vs a month and a half: Aznar's government was accused after the March 11 train massacre in Madrid of withholding information in order to put the blame on Basque terrorist group ETA instead of al-Qaeda.

One of the pieces of information that the former government is accused of silencing was the discovery of a van containing several detonators, some small quantity of explosives and a cassette tape in Arabic with Koran verses. Of course, this accusation ignores the fact that everybody knew about the van from a televised press conference by then Interior minister, Angel Acebes, at 8.30 pm on the very same March 11. While it's true that the police was alerted about the suspicious vehicle in the late morning, they searched it for booby traps (there weren't) and since the detonators where not at plain sight (they were under the driver's seat), they decided to transport it to the forensic lab for an in-depth analysis. At that time it was not clear at all that the van was related to the bombings, and remember the law enforcement services were that day, understandably, overwhelmed with work; there were several more suspicious vehicles reported that day.

Only at approximately 6 pm the material was inventoried and the tape translated. Two hours later, as I said, the Interior minister went into national TV and gave the news to everyone. Still, critics, pundits and then in opposition Socialist Party point to these two hours as the ultimate proof that Aznar's government was hiding something. People went to the streets in millions demanding immediate explanations; "we want to know who did it", was the chant among protesters banging their pots in front of PP's headquarters.

Three months have passed since then, and the van discovery is certainly one of the star subjects in the parliamentary commission now in session investigating the attacks (if you think that the 9/11 commission public earings where full of political posturing, you should see this one).

And now we learn this:
Spanish police found a rental car used by the Madrid train bombers, but much of the evidence was lost after the rental company cleaned the vehicle before police conducted forensics tests, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Police found the car June 13, more than three months after the March 11 Madrid train bombings, in the town of Alcala de Henares, the departure point of three of the four trains bombed, the Madrid daily El Mundo reported, citing unidentified police sources.

The police learned of the car - parked just 30 yards from the spot where a white van believed to have been used by the bombers was found - after a resident complained the vehicle had been abandoned, the newspaper said. The car was apparently left in Alcala de Henares, just outside Madrid, before the bombings which are blamed on Islamic militants with ties to al-Qaida.

Upon inspection, police discovered the car, a Ford, belonged to Hertz, although the rental car company reported it stolen in France last year, El Mundo said.

Police returned the car to Hertz without fully dusting it for fingerprints or taking other forensic evidence, the newspaper said.

Hertz employees discovered a suitcase in the trunk of the car as they washed it. They called in the police, who found cartridge belts and clothes that are believed to have belonged to two suspected Islamic militants who later committed suicide to evade capture, El Mundo said.
(emphasis mine)

So it took one and a half months to get this information out, and not by an official communiqué: it was leaked to a newspaper.

The truth is that, since taking over after their surprise win in the March general elections, there's been not a single public conference by the new Interior minister, Angel Alonso, updating the public on at least the main lines of information. There's no public outcry asking for information on how the investigation is going; no pundit ripping his shirt denouncing the official secrecy.

Apparently nobody feels the need to know anymore.