March 16, 2004

Al Qaeda & Spain

I mention below my fears that Al Qaeda would take the election results in Spain as a vindication of their strategy. There was skepticism in the comments about the motivations that led to the Madrid bombings.

Recently, online jihadist documents from a year ago have come to light that describe the strategy, and the intended domino effect. The New York Times reports:

For the last year the Israeli historian Reuven Paz has monitored jihadist writings about Spain, which focused on the Spanish government's participation in Iraq. "In order to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq," one online tract read, "it is a must to exploit the coming general elections in Spain." It added that two to three attacks would ensure "the victory of the Socialist Party and the withdrawal of Spanish forces," the first domino in the collapse of the American-led coalition. also refers to reports from Norwegian terrorist research group:
Researchers with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment who have specialised in digging up original al-Qaeda releases and interviews, told the NRK television channel they had discovered a document on an Arabic website last year outlining al-Qaeda strategies on how to force the United States and its allies to leave Iraq, and pointing to Spain as the "weakest link".

"It wasn't until yesterday when we were going through old material to find links to Spain that we understood what we were holding in our hands," project leader Brynjar Lia told NRK.

"We mainly had the impression that (the documents) referred to the situation in Iraq, but on closer examination we saw that they specifically refer to Spanish domestic politics and the elections," due on Sunday, he added.

According to the TV report, page 42 of the Arabic document reads: "We have to make use of the election to the maximum. The government at the most can cope with three attacks."

The document also reportedly predicts that the other partners in the US-led coalition would follow like "pieces of domino" if Spain were to withdraw from Iraq.

Bjørn Stærk discusses the same document, and has a translation of parts of the Norwegian report.

I have no idea about the authenticity of these documents or reports, but it certainly makes my fears more concrete.

Posted by richard at March 16, 2004 09:19 PM

Of course, now some Muslim militants are targeting France, who led the charge AGAINST the war in Iraq. They claim it is because of the headscarf ban, but really I think it just show tht these guys will attack anyone, whether or not they support the US, whether or not their attacks get the results they way, etc.

Here's how the group described France:

Describing France as a country of "wine, pigs, loose morals and nudity," the group said it planned to use attack techniques imported from Gaza and Chechnya that "have never been used in the West until now."

See the whole thing at

Posted by: Mike F. at March 17, 2004 08:35 AM

Again, I certainly think "these guys" will attack anyone in the West. It truly is us against them.

My observation was simply that Al Qaeda has typically either hit symbolic targets or just tried to kill indiscriminately. I'm concerned for the Spanish bombings because it will convince them that they can have an effect on policy decisions in democracies. (Even if they didn't and the Spaniards were going to vote the PP out anyway).

So my concern is that we'll get the kind of bombings and killings we already could have expected with Al Qaeda, but we'll see them timed to influence our policies. And I'm afraid for the deaths and for the resulting policies.

Posted by: richard at March 17, 2004 11:41 AM

This is the most objective piece I could find on the subject. It presents both sides of the argument, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions:

Posted by: Mike F. at March 17, 2004 10:39 PM

Wait — wait a minute: you don't think al Qaeda is influencing our policies already? Because we have a fascist state now (note the first use of the term), and every time somebody wonders out loud why we have to accept all the ancillary garbage that the Bush Administration is feeding us (ya know, the fiscal irresponsibility, the erosion of civil liberties, the racist application of immigration policy, the incoherent positions the DOJ has taken on sentencing, the retrograde stances taken on social issues, the trumped-up war, the country's absolutely squandered international cachet), we're told — by the Bush Administration, the GOP, and occasionally this website — that we're supposed to swallow it all,

because who else is going to protect us from al Qaeda?

So if the prospect of al Qaeda laughing fruit salad into their beards is the standard for what makes you afraid, then why does a Spanish election scare you more than the situation here in the States?

You can't get on an airplane anymore without taking off your shoes and pants and submitting to intestinal exploration by a bored civil servant. al Qaeda is pleased.

The entire Arab-American population inside the country is in an uproar and has turned on our government. al Qaeda is pleased.

We've deposited thousands of Americans into the Middle East for terrorists to shoot rockets at. al Qaeda is pleased.

We've had a disastrous falling out with important European nations over Iraq. al Qaeda is pleased.

All of the international sympathy that flowed to the United States after September 11 has evaporated. al Qaeda is surprised and delighted.

While we watched statues of Saddam Hussein toppled in Baghdad on our televisions, the Arab world saw footage of child bombing victims on life support in hospitals, no doubt boosting terrorist recruitment. al Qaeda is thrilled.

The decision to invade Iraq, proving as it has to lack any basis in the "national security" rationales recited by the Bush Administration and the Blair Government, has forfeited whatever tenuous connection it may ever have had to the larger anti-terror movement, leaving already cynical Arab communities absolutely convinced that the USA either wants the oil bad enough to bomb for it or is simply irreconcilably an enemy of the peoples in the Middle East. Arabs, Europeans, and the occasional lefty in America is forced to conclude that the US — at one time a force for rationality and liberalism and tolerance in the world — has declared that it is "good" and the Arab states are "evil." al Qaeda, equally convinced of the converse proposition, has been itching for a fight with us. Osama bin Laden wants a knock-down, drag-out, East v. West bloodbath — and he wants it more than gestures of "appeasement" like US troop departure from the Holy Peninsula or a weakened coalition occupier in Iraq, more than a Palestinian state. He wants a clash of absolutes, we have just the simple-minded millennialist religious fanatic on our side to provide it, and it's so on, baby. al Qaeda couldn't be happier for that.

But we're supposed to worry that Spain — Spain? — is giving al Qaeda something it wants?


Posted by: Brad A. at March 17, 2004 11:23 PM

Does it matter that our standing in the world has fallen, that fewer people trust us, and that distancing one's self from the the US has politcal benefit for politicians in other countries?

Posted by: Mike F. at March 18, 2004 08:16 AM