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Terrorists in Spain Said to Eye Jewish Sites

The New York Times, USA
Apr. 14, 2004
Elaine Sciolino
www.nytimes.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Wednesday April 14, 2004

MADRID, April 13 Terrorists believed responsible for the Madrid train bombings last month also considered attacks on a Jewish community center and cemetery outside Madrid, a senior Spanish investigator said Tuesday.

A map showing the two sites was found in the ruins of an apartment destroyed 10 days ago when at least six of the bombing suspects blew themselves up to avoid capture by the police, the official added.

The police also found evidence that the men were investigating the possibility of hitting at least one other target in an attack that would inflict major casualties.

“We are sure they were looking at an attack on the Jewish targets,” the official said. “They apparently had other alternatives as well, although we are less sure of them.”

The bombers were plotting new attacks because, it appears from evidence found in the apartment, they were unhappy with suggestions by the newly elected Socialist government that it would double the number of Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan to 250.

Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero, who will be sworn in Friday as prime minister, has pledged repeatedly since his election victory that he will remove Spanish troops from Iraq unless they are placed under a United Nations mandate by June 30. But he told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at a meeting here on March 24, for example, that Spain was prepared to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, and other leading Socialists have said that the plan is to double Spain’s troop strength.

The full text of a painstakingly reconstructed video found in the ruins of the apartment and released by the police on Tuesday offered the terrorists’ first criticism of the Socialists, who defeated Spain’s center-right government in the election three days after the March 11 bombings.

“After discovering that the situation has not changed, and that your new government announced it would start its mandate with yet more fighting against Muslims and the deployment of more crusader troops to Afghanistan, the Death Squadrons and Ansar al Qaeda have decided to continue on the path of holy war and resistance,” the speaker on the video said.

The speaker added that unless all Spanish troops were withdrawn from Muslim lands within a week, the holy war would continue.

One senior official said investigators believed that the speaker, who was masked and wearing explosives strapped around his waist and who was flanked by two other masked men, was Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, the Tunisian thought to have been at the center of the train bombings. He was later killed in the explosion in the apartment.

The suspected plan to attack Jewish targets near the town of Hoyo de Manzanares north of Madrid was first reported in the newspaper El Mundo on Tuesday.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, who consistently declines to be identified, insisted that there was no evidence to confirm “the intention of targeting any Jewish target around Madrid.”

However, Fernando Esteban, the mayor of Hoyo de Manzanares, said that Spanish authorities had alerted him last Thursday that the Jewish center had been a target and that “security measures had to be taken.”

“They told us documents were found in the Legans apartment in which the center appeared as a target,” he said in a telephone interview.

The mayor said he had been told that only the Jewish center, which is next to one of Spain’s few Jewish cemeteries, was marked on the map and that the police combed the area around both sites for explosives. None were found.

Jacobo Israel, president of Madrid’s small Jewish community, said that this would be the first time that a Jewish site in Spain had been threatened by Islamic extremists, but that the news did not come as a surprise. “We always thought we were a target and I think this just confirms the reality,” he said in a telephone interview.

Investigators have drawn no concrete link between the Madrid train bombings and attacks against five targets in Casablanca, Morocco, last May in which 47 people, including 12 suicide bombers, were killed. However, one of the places attacked was a Jewish cemetery and another was a Jewish community center.

There are only 15,000 to 20,000 Jews in Spain, most of them immigrants from Morocco and Argentina. Spain’s indigenous Jewish population was expelled from the country in 1492 by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. That was the same year that the monarchs defeated Al Andalus, the Muslim kingdom that had ruled parts of Spain for 800 years.

In the video found in the apartment debris, the speaker referred to Al Andalus, saying that the “brigade located in Al Andalus will not leave here until there is an immediate, unconditional withdrawal of their troops from Muslim bases.”

As part of their continuing investigation, the Spanish police arrested at least two more Moroccans in connection with the train bombings, a court official told reporters on Tuesday.

Hungary Reports Plot

BUDAPEST, April 13 (Reuters) The Hungarian police detained a Hungarian dentist of Palestinian origin on Tuesday who they said was plotting a bomb attack against a Jewish museum.

Israel’s president, Moshe Katsav, had arrived in Budapest earlier in the day, but the police denied that the plot was linked to his visit or his scheduled attendance at the opening of a Holocaust memorial center on Thursday.

Dale Fuchs and Emma Daly contributed reporting for this article.

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