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Profile: Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA)
a.k.a. Basque Homeland and Liberty
Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
At around 7:00 a.m., Luis Garrudo Fernandez, a doorman for an apartment building in the town of Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, see three men behaving strangely near a white Renault Kangoo van parked near the local train station. The next day, he will tell the press, “When I saw them I thought they might be armed robbers or something like that… They were all covered up around their heads and necks, and it wasn’t even cold.” He gets close to one of them who is hurrying off towards the station. “All I could see was that he was wearing a white scarf around his neck and something covering the top of his head. You could only really see his eyes.” The others go to the back of the van and take out three big black rucksacks. Fernandez is unable to determine their ethnicity since he cannot see their faces clearly, but he suspects they are foreigners. Forty minutes later, bombs explode on four trains; the trains had started their journeys at the Alcala station (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Fernandez soon tells a neighbor about the strange men. At 10:50 a.m., the neighbor calls the police. What the police find in the van will be the first lead in determining who is behind the train bombings. Fernandez claims the police soon come and inspect the van.
Immediately Told - He says they immediately tell him that they found bomb detonators and a cassette inside. The cassette contains exhortations from the Koran, but Fernandez will not remember them telling him anything about the cassette having an Arabic link. He is then driven to the police station, and on the way there a policeman tells him that he does not believe ETA, the Basque separatist group, is responsible. That evening at about 7:00 p.m., he is asked to look at a series of photographs of Arab suspects.
Contradictory Claim - However, this claim is later contradicted by a police report. While it is not denied that Fernandez gave the initial tip, the report says the van is not searched until about 3:30 p.m., after it has been moved to a different part of town. Eduardo Blanco, the police chief in Alcala de Henares, will later testify in support of the police report and will say that he is not told until that evening that detonators and an Arab cassette have been found in the vehicle. [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Daily Telegraph, 3/15/2004; Expatica, 7/6/2004; London Times, 7/7/2004] The discrepancy is important in determining just how quickly investigators begin to suspect Islamist militants and not ETA are behind the bombing.
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]
Four Madrid trains were bombed on the morning of March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and in the evening on the same day, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar calls the editors of Spain’s major newspapers and tells them that ETA, a Basque separatist group, is behind the attacks. In fact, so far there is no evidence suggesting ETA involvement in the bombings. However, investigators have found bomb detonators in a van near the sight of one of the bombings, and the van also has a cassette tape of the Koran in it, suggesting Islamist militants were behind the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004). At the same time, Spanish intelligence is wiretapping most of the top ETA leaders, and during the day they intercept calls between leaders expressing shock about the bombings. The bombings also do not fit with ETA’s modus operandi, which is to bomb government targets and avoid civilian casualties. Aznar is aware of all this, and even tells Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, leader of the opposition party, about the van evidence in a phone call that same evening. But Aznar nonetheless insists that “there is no doubt who did the attacks,” and that ETA is to blame. There are nationwide elections scheduled in just three days, and polls show that Aznar’s successor, Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party, is leading Zapatero of the Socialist party by about five points. ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain, and Aznar himself survived an ETA car bomb in 1995. He has made the elimination of ETA his top priority. In fact, Aznar has planned a series of raids against ETA on March 12 in hopes that will help boost his party’s chances in the elections. If ETA is responsible, it will vindicate Aznar’s campaign against them and presumably boost his party’s chances in the election. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
Shortly after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), a police officer finds an unexploded bomb in a backpack under a seat on one of the trains. He moves to a clear spot away from the train and calls the bomb squad. But just as the squad is approaching, the bomb explodes. No one is hurt, and this gives the bomb experts a chance to smell the air to roughly determine what type of explosive was used. [El Pais, 3/24/2004] Word begins to spread within the Spanish government that Titadyne was the type of explosive used in the bombings. Titadyne is the manufactured form of a dynamite normally used by ETA, a Basque separatist group. ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain, and in recent months some ETA members had been caught with Titadyne. So these early reports heavily influence officials as they begin to make public statements blaming ETA for the bombings. However, the bombs are actually made of Goma-2, not Titadyne. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will later comment, “No expert police, and fewer explosives deactivation specialists, could confuse Titadyne with Goma-2. The odors that cause both substances are as different as a banana and a pear.… The error in transmitting the report can only be intentional.” However, it is unclear where the claim that Titadyne was used came from. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] Police chief Agustin Diaz de Mera is one person who is given a report during the day claiming that Titadyne was used. In 2007, testifying in the Madrid bombings trial, he will cite police confidentiality and refuse to name the source of the report. He will be fined $1,300 for his refusal to answer the question. [Associated Press, 3/28/2007] That evening, traces of Goma-2 are found in a suspicious stolen van linked to the bombers (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004). Late that night, an exploded bomb will be found on one of the bombed trains, and investigators will quickly determine it is made of Goma-2 (see March 12, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] But the government will continue to point blame at the ETA (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). That same evening, an official from the Spanish prime minister’s office calls foreign journalists based in Madrid and tells them that ETA is responsible. One reason given is that Titadyne was used. [El Pais, 3/24/2004]
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]
The Popular Party led by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is voted out of power on March 14, 2004 (see March 14, 2004). In December 2004, the incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Socialist party, will claim that shortly after the election Aznar wiped out all computer records at the prime minister’s office from the period between the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the elections three days later. Zapatero will tell a parliamentary commission: “There was nothing, absolutely nothing… everything had been wiped. There is nothing from March 11 to March 14 in the prime minister’s office.” Only some paper documents remain. During those days, the ruling party strongly asserted that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, even as investigators quickly uncovered overwhelming evidence that Islamist militants were the real culprits (see Evening, March 11, 2004, March 12, 2004, 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Zapatero will accuse Aznar’s government of having tried to frame ETA for the bombings. “It was massive deceit,” he says. [Guardian, 12/14/2004]
Recently retired Spanish Prime Minister Jose María Aznar says to a parliamentary investigation, “There is absolute proof that shows… a connection between ETA terrorists and Islamic terrorism.… I am one of those who believe that all [forms of] terrorism end up being connected.” ETA are a Basque separatist group. According to the Guardian, Aznar’s political party lost a national election three days after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) “partly because voters mistrusted his government’s initial insistence that ETA, rather than Islamists, was to blame.” Since then, little evidence has come forward suggesting any ETA link with the bombing, although some of the Arab bomb suspects had contacts with some ETA associates in prison several years before. Aznar denies that his government lied about what it knew regarding who was responsible for the bombings. “My conscience is clear… we told the truth about what we knew.” [Guardian, 11/29/2004] Many Spaniards, especially supporters of Aznar’s conservative Popular Party, continue to assert that there was an ETA link. The Observer comments, “Few experts, however, give credence to the ETA theory. Some see it as an attempt by the [Popular] Party to muddy the waters in a vain bid to save the party’s battered reputation.” [Observer, 11/28/2004]
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