Thursday, July 29, 2004

ANOTHER KEY TERRORIST has been arrested in connection with the March 11 bomb attacks:
Police investigating the Madrid terrorist bombings have arrested a leading Islamic terrorist suspect, the justice ministry said Thursday.

Semaan Gaby Eid, who is Lebanese, was arrested in Carabanchel, a working-class suburb of Madrid, on Wednesday, a ministry statement said.

He was carrying a false Portuguese identity card in the name of Gabriel Salim Aoun, which said he was born in Mozambique in 1960.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

SPAIN AND MOROCCO join forces:
Morocco and Spain have not always been the best of neighbours, so Tuesday's announcement from Madrid that the two neighbours are to send a joint peacekeeping force to the troubled Caribbean nation of Haiti came as something of a surprise.

Relations between the two nations have been strained over recent years. Areas of disagreement have ranged from fishing rights to the existence of two Spanish enclaves on Morocco's coastline. Just two years ago, Morocco landed troops on the island of Perejil, which is claimed by Spain. That move led to the recalling of both countries' ambassadors.

However, things appear to have changed under the new Spanish government of Jose Zapatero. The fact that most of the suspects arrested in direct connection with the 11 March bomb attacks in Madrid were of Moroccan origin appears to have had an impact, leading in May this year to the two countries concluding a deal on reinforcing their co-operation in combating terrorism, illegal migration and drug trafficking.

[...] The change in direction has caused concern in some quarters that Spain is about to drop its longstanding support for the people of its former North African colony Western Sahara, which is currently under Moroccan control. Alberto Pires sees this as a worrying development:

"Up to now, mostly, we were continuously helping the Western Saharan population in the referendum [on their future status] with the Baker Plan, and so on. Now Spanish foreign policy is aligning against the interests of the [Western] Sahara population. And this is a worry for most of the Spanish political analysts."
And this is a real shame, too.

FRENCH JUDGE Bruguière says there's no connection between ETA and Islamic terror:
No evidence has emerged to suggest any collaboration or connection between the Basque separatist movement ETA and extremist organizations, French Anti-Terrorist Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere told Spanish radio yesterday. [Does that mean that ETA is a moderate organization? -- ed. No, it's just the PC-traditional way to avoid using the words 'Islamic' and 'terrorist' in the same sentence]

“We have uncovered no document showing a link, not even of a logistical nature, between ETA and extremist organizations,” Bruguiere, an expert on the Al-Qaeda network, told broadcaster Cadena Ser.
I wonder what ETA members were doing in Tehran back in February this year, attending the "revolutionary jamboree" (in Amir Taheri's words) that takes place each year in the Iranian capital. They haven't missed one edition since the 'terror convention' started.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

NATURALLY, the rift between Spain and Australia over Downer's comments gets a different angle at al-Jazeera: "Spain reprimands Australia over Iraq comment" (via The Command Post)

So it's good ol'Spain summoning (their description) the naughty Aussies, who are behaving badly once again, for a lecture on what's right and what's wrong. It's very clear whose side the "Arab CNN" is on.

I WONDER if they held the meetings in a room full of mirrors:
Forum Barcelona - a public-private partnership to advance sustainable development, cultural diversity and peace-building - has announced its backing for the Global Compact initiative of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that promotes better corporate practices around the world.

The announcement came yesterday in Barcelona, Spain, at the end of a four-day meeting on "The Role of Corporations in the 21st Century" and also heralded the establishment of a Global Compact Centre.
No word on whether UNSCAM was or will be discussed.

Monday, July 26, 2004

CAN'T RESIST when somebody says I'm "possibly (his/her) favorite Spanish blogger", so to my blogroll goes Do Thy Research!

DOES ANYONE really think this will solve anything?
The Spanish government has begun formal discussions on a proposal to subsidize mosques in an effort to make them less dependent on financing from extremist groups abroad, according to government officials.

The proposal, which legal scholars say is likely to test the limits of Spain's separation of church and state, reflects a widespread belief among counterterrorism officials here that Spanish mosques are vulnerable to the influences of extremist groups because they feel the need to turn to them for financing.
While it's certainly true that money is a factor, it is not the only one affecting the extremism in the Islamic places of worship. Subsidizing them won't prevent the possibility that 'obscure' funds keep coming in order to fund more spurious motives. I'm not sure if this proposal will only put even more money in the hands of extremists. Plus, it goes against the grain of what should be one of the basic principles of a modern democracy: the separation between church and state. Yes, I know the Catholic church is currently subsidized. I personally think this should stop too, although there's the undeniable factor that it is the most widespread religion in Spain. And no bunch of Catholics have blown the lives of 192 innocent train commuters in the name of Jesus Christ after listening to prayers in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as far as I know.

Morocco has warned Spain that it has lost track of 400 Moroccan Islamist militants who trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Sunday.

Moroccan authorities gave the warning to Judge Baltasar Garzon, Spain's leading al Qaeda expert, in Rabat earlier this month, El Pais said, citing a person who was present at the meeting.

WELL SAID, MATE! Australia's Foreign Minister tells an uncomfortable truth:
AUSTRALIA’S foreign minister on Sunday accused the Philippines and Spain of prompting a militant group’s threat to bomb Australia unless it withdraws from Iraq, saying they had “empowered” terrorists by caving in to their demands.

Alexander Downer said the threat by a group calling itself Islamic Tawhid Group, which claims to be an al-Qaeda branch in Europe, was a direct result of Manila and Madrid’s withdrawal from Iraq, singling out the two countries by name.

“Its very important we send a strong message that we will not be threatened by terrorist groups,” Downer told Channel Nine. “You have to stand up to these people, because if you don’t, you empower them.”
As one could expect, the reaction was quick:
THE Spanish Government today brushed aside criticism from Australia and denied it had given in to terrorists by withdrawing its troops from Iraq.

Socialist party spokeswoman Trinidad Jimenez said the pullout simply fulfilled an election campaign pledge based on long-standing opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.

[...] Ms Jimenez, Spain's spokeswoman for international affairs, called Mr Downer's remarks "totally unacceptable".

"The Spanish Government would never have accepted threats of a terrorist group," she said.

"Spain's troop withdrawal is part of an electoral promise and a firm conviction that from the beginning it was an unjust and illegal war."
Trini, even if one considered that the was was illegal at the beginning (which it wasn't), it isn't anymore under your own party's standards (no hope that you'll admit it, though); it has been sanctioned by several UNSC resolutions. Last one, no. 1546 which fulfilled the conditions Zapatero stated during the campaign as acceptable to remain in Iraq. Of course, he advanced the withdrawal because he said there was no chance in hell that such a resolution could pass. No Nostradamus, he.

So what we had was a campaign pledge to withdraw from Iraq if there was no resolution before June 30th. Then came the March 11 atrocity and, after the surprise victory by the Socialist Party on the March 14 elections, Zapatero breaks the terms of his pledge of giving the UN resolution a chance and orders the troops back home immediately. To summarize: before the March 11 attacks , the pledge was to wait until June 30 and see if there was a UNSC resolution on the meantime; after the March 11 attacks, the troops are pulled immediately, and without any trace of CYA such as proposing, now that Spain is in the Security Council, a draft resolution in such terms that it couldn't be accepted but giving the cover to the "see, there was not going to be a resolution" mantra.

Say what you will, Trini, but the objective perception by any observer is that the terrorist attacks did influence in Zapatero's government decision; that they caved in to Islamofascists. Not objective observers only: the terrorists are definitely bragging about it. One can argue, as Downer does, that this emboldens them to continue with their 'successful' strategy of attacking other countries to see if they withdraw too. And that's just the same regardless of the motives of the withdrawal: caving in to terrorists, or trying to get the most political mileage from the decision considering the June 13 European elections that your party, Trini, definitely wanted to win lest any negative results could undermine or somehow reduce the legitimacy ofyour victory in the general elections three months earlier. That's why the schedule planned for the last troops to land in Spain the day before the election (!), where they were received by groups of people with PSOE's flags (!) under a barrage of news coverage. (Thought experiment: just imagine what would be the reaction if Bush greeted American soldiers with GOP banners and flags. Just imagine.)

UPDATE: Australian Foreign Minister is nuancing things a little, today:
Australia made a clear distinction Monday between Spain's withdrawal of troops from Iraq following the Madrid train bombings and the Philippines' withdrawal this month to secure the release of a hostage.

"The Spanish position is a particularly complex situation because of the election" straight after the Madrid attacks in March that claimed nearly 200 lives, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told BBC radio in London.

"The Socialist Party promised they would (withdraw troops) if they won the election and they did win the election," he said.

"In the case of the Philippines, they decided to pull their troops out early as a result of acceding to the demands of the terrorists who took one of their citizens and threatened to kill him.

"We regret that the Philippines government made that decision," he said. "They did save the life of their citizen of course, but the trouble is it does make life a little more difficult for other countries that still have people in Iraq."
It's undisputable that the Philippines withdrawal is much worse, but that doesn't make Spain's much better. After all, as I wrote above, the withdrawal was indeed a campaign pledge, but the expedited pullout wasn't. That was a new approach taken after the bombing and therefore can be arguably linked to it.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

MORE on the second car related to the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid which was found by the Spanish police:
Spain is investigating why it took police three months to find a stolen car used by the Madrid bombers even though it was abandoned close to a van they used, Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said on Sunday.

The car was found close to the station where the attackers on March 11 boarded commuter trains and killed 191 people, injuring 1,900. The van was found in the same car park on the day of the blasts in one of the major breaks in the case.

"We're trying to establish why from March 11, when investigations began, to June 13, the car was not found. We are trying to get an explanation as quickly as possible," Alonso told a news conference.
Well, it's nice to see that at last we're getting some official update on the investigations, even if it was only slipped in the end bit of a press conference about the recent ETA arrests. But what should be investigated is not why it took three months to discover the car, but why it took one and a half months to take this development to the public and only after a paper had leaked it.

Remember, these guys had been complaining that the previous government had been withholding key data to the public regarding the Madrid atrocities.

UPDATE: The NYT covers this news in a brief article with no stunning revelation, except for this:
At a news conference on Sunday, Mr. Alonso said he had withheld the information because the police told him that releasing it would harm their investigation. "Our job is to pay attention to the police," he said.
Which is perfectly fine with me. But, then again, from March 11 to 14 I wasn't demanding that each and every single item in the investigation be almost broadcast in real-time -as Mr Alonso's party did-, nor accusing the former government of a coverup because it would prefer its officers to assess the evidence before going public with it a couple hours later. Besides, anyone with a minimum of knowledge of security issues knows there's a world of a difference between the situation in the immediate aftermath of an attack, in which it is key to be extra-careful not to hinder the chances to catch the guys that have just hit and when they're still at large, and a mishandled clue that is colder than ice after three months.

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.

WHEN I LAUNCHED Barcepundit back in May, after guestblogging at HispaLibertas for several months, my idea was to make it a bi-lingual weblog, posting alternatively in Spanish and English depending on the subject and angle of each entry.

However, it has become quite puzzling to discern when to use one language and when to write in the other, and I realized that I only have written a couple of posts in English so far -it's almost impossible to distinguish them in the middle of all the other material. So I decided to launch this blog fully in English, not with posts translated into English, but as a fully independent project with its own angle, and focused on subjects that may be of interest to audiences beyond the Spanish blogosphere.

Which, by the way, leads me to ask for your forgiveness regarding all atrocities I will certainly commit against the English language. As I wrote in the blog's header, "it's not my mother tongue, so sue me!"

Be welcome to visit anytime you wish; you can also use the feed via your favorite newsreader and please feel free to email me comments, criticisms, praises, corrections, tips (but not insults, please!). You can find my address by clicking here; I won't enable comments as it would take too much time to monitor against any potential trolling.