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Profile: Angel Acebes
Angel Acebes was a participant or observer in the following events:
The white van, impounded in a police parking lot. [Source: Libertad Digital]At 10:50 a.m. on March 11, 2004, Madrid police receive an eyewitness tip pointing them to a white van (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004) left at one of the train stations that had been bombed about three hours earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One investigator will later say: “At the beginning, we didn’t pay too much attention to it. Then we saw that the license plate didn’t correspond to the van.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Police determine that the van was stolen several days before. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] At about 2:00 p.m., police take the van away. Accounts conflict as to whether the van is searched that morning before it is moved or that afternoon after the move (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Guardian, 3/13/2004] Regardless, when it is searched investigators find a plastic bag containing bomb detonators. They also find a cassette tape containing recitations of the Koran. Investigators had immediately suspected ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, and in fact at 1:30 p.m. Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes publicly blames ETA for the bombings. But based on the evidence in the van they begin to suspect Islamist militants were behind it instead. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Vidino, 2006, pp. 294] That evening, traces of the explosive Goma-2 are also found in the van. This will further point the investigation away from the ETA, since that group has never been known to use that type of explosive (see (8:00 a.m.-Evening) March 11, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004]
Massive demonstrations in Madrid on March 12, 2004. [Source: Associated Press]In the early morning of March 12, 2004, a police officer searching through the wreckage of the Madrid trains bombed the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) discovers a bag containing 22 pounds of explosives surrounded by nails and screws. Two wires run from a cell phone to a detonator. Police use the memory chip inside the phone to find who the owner of the phone has called recently. They quickly discover a network of Islamist militants, many of them already under surveillance. They hone in on Jamal Zougam, who owns a cell phone shop that is connected to the phone, and who had been under investigation for militant links since 2000 (see 2000-Early March 2004). He will be arrested a day later. But the ruling party has already blamed the bombings on ETA, a Basque separate group (see Evening, March 11, 2004). Interior Minister Angel Acebes had blamed ETA within hours of the attacks (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004), and again he publicly claims that ETA is the prime suspect, even though police are now sure that Islamist militants were behind the bombings instead. He even calls those who suggest otherwise “pathetic” and says their alternative theories are “poisonous”. But news that ETA is not to blame is already leaking to the media. That evening about 11 million Spaniards protest around the country—about one fourth of Spain’s population. They are protesting the violence of the bombings, but also, increasingly, growing evidence of a cover-up that attempts to falsely blame ETA. The New Yorker will later comment, “It was clear that the [national election on March 14] would swing on the question of whether Islamists or ETA terrorists were responsible for the bombings.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
ETA, a Basque separatist group, denies responsibility for the Madrid train bombings the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain. A person claiming to belong to ETA tells a newspaper in the Basque region of Spain that ETA “has no responsibility whatsoever for the Madrid attacks.” A second person makes a similar statement to a Basque television station around the same time. However, the Spanish government continues to blame ETA. Interior Minister Angel Acebes says ETA “is still the main line of investigation. There is no reason for it not to be.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004]
Angel Acebes. [Source: Luis Magan / El Pais]At 4:00 p.m. on March 13, 2004, the day before national elections in Spain, Interior Minister Angel Acebes announces on television that Jamal Zougam and two other Moroccans have been arrested for suspected roles in the Madrid train bombings two days before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). A day earlier, evidence found at one of the bomb sites was linked to Zougam (see March 12, 2004), and he had long been monitored for his Islamist militant links (see 2000-Early March 2004). Nonetheless, Acebes continues to suggest that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombing instead. The ruling party has staked its reputation on its assertion that ETA is to blame. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] That evening, the national public television station even changes its regular television programming to show a movie about Basque terrorism. [Australian, 11/2/2007] But by now the opposition Socialist Party is publicly accusing the government of lying about the investigation in order to stay in power. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007]
Youssef Belhadj. [Source: Public domain]At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. [Associated Press, 3/13/2004] A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). [New York Times, 4/12/2004] Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” [BBC, 3/14/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342] Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. [Observer, 3/14/2004] But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” [BBC, 3/14/2004] The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. [New York Times, 4/12/2004] The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
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