Madrid Bombings

by Henry on March 11, 2004

As more news filters through, it looks as though the Madrid train-bombings are going to be one of the worst terrorist atrocities in modern European history, if not the worst. More than twice as many people have been killed as in the Bologna train station bomb; there are nearly an order of magnitude more casualties than there were in the Birmingham pub bombing. If ETA is responsible (as it almost certainly is, Glenn Reynolds’ speculations to the contrary), it’s a move born out of desperation. Paddy Woodworth, who knows as much about the Basque country as any English speaker, suggests that ETA have been in trouble for a while. Their political wing’s support among voters was cut in half when ETA went back to terrorism, and many of their established leaders are in jail, so that the current active leadership is young, radical and politically inexperienced. It’s hard to imagine how they could have more effectively discredited a cause that was hardly very creditable to begin with.

Update: This may turn out not to have been an ETA attack after all, in which case my arguments above would be quite beside the point – there’s some evidence pointing to Islamic terrorists. I should also note that Glenn Reynolds, in fairness to him, is now sounding considerably more equivocal about the likely perpetrators.



drapeto 03.11.04 at 5:52 pm

that was hardly very creditable to begin with.



JR 03.11.04 at 6:02 pm

I’d like to say that my nation Spain is united against such barbarian crime. But it’s not true.

Even today, there are who shout political messages.

This should be a day of sorrow and pain here.


Peter 03.11.04 at 6:34 pm

who needs credibility when you got respect?


Maria 03.11.04 at 7:13 pm

The BBC 5

Carlos 03.11.04 at 7:40 pm

Strange, really strange. On one hand, who else but ETA could have done it, especially 3 days before elections?. On the other hand, it’s not ETA usual modus operandi at all. It’s a lot bigger, better coordinated, much more indiscriminate and bloody and publicly denied. If it’s them, this signals a qualitative change in their methods.
The curious thing is that ETA has become increasingly weaker for the last twenty years but for some reason the spanish government can’t seem to finish the organization.


Sebastian holsclaw 03.11.04 at 7:42 pm

“It’s hard to imagine how they could have more effectively discredited a cause that was hardly very creditable to begin with.”

I think the problem with many terrorist organzations is that they care about their reputations in a small circle. They aren’t worried about general credibility. Neither the ETA nor Al Qaeda have goals which are likely to be advanced by their actions if you examine them from the point of view of a neutral outsider. But neither group is really appealing to the neutral outsider. They are gaining credibility among their small group of extremist sympathizers. And unfortunately they do gain credibility in those groups by killing civilians.


Walt Pohl 03.11.04 at 7:46 pm

May the perpetrators of this atrocity rot in a special level of hell devised solely for their punishment. May the bile that infests their hearts rot their bodies. May they be eaten alive by maggots, may their organs burst from hemmoragic fever, their tissues become infested with tumors. May their names be erased from history like that of discredited Egyptian pharoahs, and the names of their victims become exalted.

Sorry, I’m very upset about this, and I needed to vent.


Carlos 03.11.04 at 7:51 pm

“They are gaining credibility among their small group of extremist sympathizers. And unfortunately they do gain credibility in those groups by killing civilians”

Well, ETA has in fact, lost credibility, even among extremist sympathizers for quite some time. What now calls itself ETA is in fact a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what once was ETA. That process by which an organization becomes gradually smaller and more unhinged from reality over time is what is at work here. This may be the last phase of the metamorphosis of a relatively popular group into a collection of psychopaths.


GMT 03.11.04 at 8:03 pm


maurinsky 03.11.04 at 8:05 pm

I don’t know how the ETA compares to the IRA as far as terrorist activity is concerned, but if it turns out they are responsible, the actions they’ve taken are the kind of actions that will lose them support. I don’t really know well how the IRA were regarded in the Republic of Ireland, the last time I was there I was 18 and didn’t really think about it much. But I know that my father and his friends (immigrants to the U.S. from Ireland) lost more and more regard for the IRA (which they all supported to one degree or another) with each civilian bombing. I hope that any Basques who were quietly supporting the ETA will put to rest any ideas that ETA is worth supporting.


GMT 03.11.04 at 8:16 pm

Question: did the IRA ever support the kind of ethnic cleansing advocated by ETA?


nick 03.11.04 at 8:21 pm

I just hope this attack results in ETA being thoroughly destroyed.

Not so easy to do, if the ETA leadership has been radicalised (and, even worse, may be taking its cues from Islamic militants). For all Blair’s bellicosity on Iraq, he’s taken a very different path with regard to NI than that of Aznar in Spain, and this may be ETA’s parting ‘fuck you’ to him. Or perhaps the equivalent of an Omagh, a sign that these remnants of ETA’s terror wing have utterly marginalised themselves.

Just horrific, though. The bastards.


rilkefan 03.11.04 at 8:28 pm

From DailyKos comments – OBL considers Spain part of the Caliphate. And it’s been two years and six months to the day since 9/11. Psychopathic opportunism or just psycho?


Russell Arben Fox 03.11.04 at 8:36 pm

Tragically, maybe not psycho. MSNBC is reporting that Spanish officials have disovered an abandoned van with detonators and an Arabic-language tape containing Koranic verses near a stop the trains made. Here:


Ikram 03.11.04 at 8:36 pm

Too early yet to ascribe responsibility. The Interior Minister in Spain has blamed the ETA, but I don’t think there is any definitive evidence in that regard.


rilkefan 03.11.04 at 8:58 pm


maria 03.11.04 at 9:16 pm

Horrifying – it’s sounding more and more like an Al Qaeda attack. It can’t get any worse for those directly affected, but the rest of us should probably feel much more frightened.


the aardvark 03.11.04 at 9:50 pm

It is still too early to tell who is responsible for this horrible atrocity. It seems to me to be very much in Aznar’s interest for it to be ETA. The murderers being al Qaeda would reflect dangerously on his Iraq stance. ETA being to blame, on the other hand, would strengthen his party’s hardline stance against ETA and Basque nationalism. Those incentives suggest not taking the Spanish government’s initial attribution of blame at face value.

I have no idea who is really to blame, nobody does yet. Al Qaeda’s fax to al Quds al Arabi doesn’t prove anything on its own – it has every reason to want to claim “credit” for it, since it would prove its vitality. And these attacks do not fit ETA’s modus operandi, but who is to say that they haven’t learned evil lessons from al Qaeda? We’ll have to wait and see what evidence turns up… and mourn the victims.


yabonn 03.11.04 at 9:53 pm

I’m wondering.

The spanish gov reaction was just too fast. Even on maximum alert, even with the dynamite truck etcetc i don’t see how they could affirm so fast it was Eta.

It’s a political suicide for Eta, and it doesn’t fit with their usual ways. They denied it, too, via some Herri Batasuna guy i heard on the radio.

Plus the story of “young recruits being more violent than the veterants” seems strange to me. Plus the media are usually heavily pro gov in spain.

Plus aznar is really a slimeball -i don’t give him the “too awful to be politically exploited” free pass.


Un hola a los espanoles aqui, coraje tambien.


Antoni Jaume 03.11.04 at 10:33 pm

As of now we have not a definitive proof of who did it, however everybody where I live, in Catalonia, thought quite instantly that it would be ETA.

To be sure there are some changes respect of the usual modus operandi, amongst them the lack of a warning when using explosives. Such warning are not so much to avoid victims than to target police agents, that have to go near the possible bomb site. Some times there are two bombs one rather small, and then another bigger, that has some chance to catch some agent.

So we have to wait to have a confirmation. If it is ETA, the PP may get a boost, if “al qaida” it may be the reverse. The PP government has electoral motives to claim that’s ETA, or at least to maintain that’s a possibility.

What is sure is that if ETA ends associated with this massacre they will lose a lot of support even in the Basque Country.



Not the real Glenn Reynolds 03.11.04 at 11:18 pm

In fairness to Henry, he’s now sounding considerably more equivocal about the likely perpetrators.


rhc 03.11.04 at 11:57 pm

I sincerely doubt it was the ETA because it does not fit with their modus operandi. And if it turns out to be AQ or some other islamist terrorist operation, I do hope that the post will be edited to reflect the truth.



Vinteuil 03.12.04 at 1:47 am


Let me get this straight.

If it was ETA, that would reflect *well* on Aznar’s hardline stance against Basque separatism.

But if it was Al Quaeda, that would reflect *badly* on Aznar’s hardline stance against Saddam Hussein.


Please explain.


Brian W. Doss 03.12.04 at 2:29 am

If it is ETA, then it fits into the raison d’etre of Aznar and his party- that Basque separatism is alive and evil and thus heavy law’n’order measures are necessary now more than ever.

If it is Al Qaeda, then the spin is that the Madrid bombing is chickens coming home to roost, as Aznar’s public support of the Iraq war may have pissed some Al Q folk off and thus made Spain a target (that, presumably, it wouldn’t have been if he’d stood pat or taken a Chiraqist stance).


Keith M Ellis 03.12.04 at 4:40 am

The titadine is the strongest evidence I’ve heard that it was ETA; along with some similar, previous incidents definitely linked to ETA. The change of modus operandi is well explained by the known fact that ETA is dwindling and desperate.

But what of the van? The claims made by Al-Masri are dubious because they made similar claims about, for example, the blackouts in the US last year. However, the van—if what we’ve heard is true—does seem to point to Al Qaeda or someone trying to pin the blame on Al Qaeda.

All told, my current sense is that it’s still 80% most likely ETA. And that the international embrace of an Al Qaeda link represents projection and lack of intimate familiarity with the history of ETA.

Still, it’s provocative that ETA will likely be badly hurt by the backlash against this (and they haven’t claimed responsibility!), while Al Qaeda’s interests would be greatly helped. That alone points pretty strongly to Al Qaeda. Yet, lots of terrorist groups perform atrocities that harden public opinion against them, especially when they’re desperate.


Dave F 03.12.04 at 8:50 am

Keith, I think you may prove largely right. It may be significant that the police “discovered” the damning van after a “tip-off from a concerned resident”:. Hmmm.

However, an interesting sidelight is the astonishing decision by the Security Council yesterday to immediately condemn ETA by name unanimously. That was before these possible Islamist terror connections came to light, but officials at the UN noted that it was highly unusual to namie a specific perpetrator in any case.

A US official cast doubt on the e-mail claim, saying it had been established the group involved had claimed other attacks falsely and probably consisted of a few people with a fax and a computer.

There is a small but chilling possibility that since the explosive was a “signature” type used by ETA, conceivably an ETA cell provided materiel for the attack by an al-Qaeda-linked group on ETA’s turf.
Either an ETA operation or a such co-operative scenario would probably kill off any remaining grassroots support for the separatist cause, however.

Many thousands of Basques marched in protest at the bombings last night in the autonomous region.


aardvark 03.12.04 at 2:06 pm

Vintieul – what Brian Doss said. That’s exactly the logic I had in mind, keeping in mind the respective popularity of a hard line against the Basques and the Iraq war in Spain.


john bragg 03.13.04 at 4:07 am

RE: The IRA and ethnic cleansing–in its more lunatic Third Worldist moments in the 1970’s and maybe into the 1980’s, “Brits Out” was read by at least some IRA supporters (my mother) as meaning the Unionists would have to “return” to Great Britain.


Real 911 03.13.04 at 3:52 pm

Is it a conincidence that the Madrid bombings occurred exactly 911 days since 9/11 ?

Just think for a moment. Who what is the likely significance of this, who is likely to be behind this, and more importantly, who is likely to benefit from this.

Just as the “War on Terror” seems to be waning due to the Iraq debacle, those forces that want to continue the fight against so called Islamic Terrorism and Al-Qaeda are having to take a back seat. So, what better way to galvanise world opinion against the Muslim World than to create a reign of fear amongst the Europeans. This cloud of fear was successfully galvanised and implanted into the American psyche on 911. Now, the same forces are implanting the same psychology of fear amongst the Europeans by creating a 911 event (exactly 911 days after the original 9/11). This way, any further invasions against Muslim lands will not be opposed by the Europeans in any UN resolution.

In the next few days, expect to hear that the terrorists were either from Syria, Iran or Pakistan. Soon, a UN resolution will be passed and the Western crusade will continue into one of these countries. So, who are these forces that are driving the agenda and controlling the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world (except the Muslim world)?

The answer, ofcourse, is Isreal. They are the only benefactors of this so called war against Islamic terrorism. They want the world to go after the above mentioned countries. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

When will the peoples of the world realise who the real power players are in the world. Such catastrophic events don’t just occur. They are planned well in advance with an ultimate end goal. With spectacular explosions around the world, the zionists have managed to manipulate mainstream christian opinion (The West) and have created an alliance against Islam. This is not a good situation for world harmony between peoples of the world.


DRF 03.13.04 at 7:25 pm

Independientemente de que grupo sea responsable de las matanzas del 11-M. Del analisis de la situacion se desprenden conclusiones inquietantes:

-Nos han pillado en bragas.
-Han matado a 200 seres inocentes, podrian haber sido 1000 si hubiesen querido.
-Pueden volver a hacer algo similar o peor cuando les venga en gana
-La ferocidad y crueldad de nuestros enemigos no tiene limites ni fronteras

Una de las maximas prioridades europeas en los proximos meses deberia ser tratar de identificar nuestros puntos debiles y admitir que hemos cometido errores en materia de seguridad y de lucha antiterrorista. Simplemente, no hemos estado a la altura de las circunstancias. No hemos sabido apreciar las implicaciones del nuevo orden mundial emergente tras los atentados del 11 de Septiembre. Mientras en Europa ciertos individuos se preocupaban sobre la situacion de los
terroristas encarcelados en Guantanamo y supuestos recortes a las libertades personales, otros terroristas han planeado y ejecutado la matanza de Madrid.

Europa carece, a dia de hoy, de mecanismos de seguridad antiterrorista adecuados para prevenir
atentados y para perseguir, neutralizar y eliminar a los terroristas y a aquellos que les apoyan o protegen. Cuanto antes reconozcamos nuestros errores en materia de seguridad y de actitud, antes seremos capaces de vencer en la guerra global contra el terrorismo.

Europa debe de adoptar una actitud dinamica y decidida para neutralizar la amenaza terrorista. EEUU ha decidio adoptar esta linea de actuaccion. La guerra contra el terrorismo no deberia ser responsabilidad exclusiva de los EEUU. Las victimas del terrorismo son globales: Nueva York, Bali, Mombasa, Baghdad, Jerusalen, Moscu, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Estanbul, Madrid… Europa no encontrara en el mundo un mejor aliado que los EEUU. Juntos hemos destruidos a los dos grandes demonios del siglo 20, el nazismo y el comunismo. Juntos tambien podemos ganar la batalla contra uno de los demonios del nuevo milenio, el terrorismo.

La otra opcion seria adoptar una actitud pasiva-dialogante-pacifista a veces rayando el derrotismo, del estilo “contra el terrorismo no se puede hacer nada”. La linea de actuacion que dicha corriente de pensamiento parecen sugerir es la de seguir como hasta ahora y culparnos a nosotros mismos por lo ocurrido, o mejor aun, culpar a EEUU por la existencia del terrorismo. Su estrategia para el futuro se resume a esperar que los terroristas entren en razon y asumir que aun en toda su crueldad, los terroristas nunca llegaran a utilizar un mecanismo atomico contra civiles. En la guerrra contra el fanatismo la serenidad, la pasividad, el pacifismo, el derrotismo y la actitud dialogante son recetas seguras para la victoria del terror.

El mejor homenaje que Europa puede hacer a las victimas de la matanza de Madrid es poner a disposicion de nuestras fuerzas de seguridad los instrumentos necesarios que les permitan atrapar a los responsables de las matanzas, aplicarles un castigo de proporciones equivalentes al crimen cometido y evitar que algo similar vuelva a suceder. Un bueno punto de comienzo seria la revision de la todavia no aprobada constitucion europea. Salir a la calle con las manos pintadas de blanco y en alto como diciendo “yo no he sido” no es la forma mas efectiva de luchar contra el terrrorismo ni creo que conforte mucho a las victimas de la barbarie.

Berlin, 13 de Marzo del 2004


Antoni Jaume 03.13.04 at 9:31 pm

tu discurso sobra.



Gary Farber 03.13.04 at 11:24 pm

“The answer, ofcourse, is Isreal.”

It usually is.


Gary Farber 03.13.04 at 11:27 pm

General query: how is it that, over seven and a half hours after the post from “Real 911,” no one else finds it worth commenting on? It’s just normal, acceptable, discourse?

How is that?


Keith M Ellis 03.14.04 at 2:09 am

Gary: sometimes one doesn’t feed the trolls because one knows it’s best, or simply out of “hands off” disgust. Another possibility is that of those reading the comments, almost no one bothered to read the “Real 911” because it was recognized for what it is: crap.


Colin 03.14.04 at 3:24 am

Gary, there is no point in replying to such blatant wingnut messages. It’s the more subtle and camouflaged ones that are far more dangerous; those are the kind that might prompt me to reply. But I must confess that the exercise often becomes very tedious, and there is a certain fatigue that sometimes sets in when confronted once again by the same old calumnies, naked or disguised.

As Norman Geras put it: We have to combat the falsehoods, I don’t doubt it. All of them. But I’m also aware of an impulse within myself that, by trying to counter these things, you just play a game that’s imposed on you by someone else… There’s something to be said for just responding to these prejudicial notions with a robust expression of contempt.


jm 03.14.04 at 11:56 am

El humo de estas bombas huele mal ¿Quién tiene que ganar mas en estas elecciones, tras el asesinato? Me niego a darles mi voto. Viva España


Gary Farber 03.14.04 at 7:20 pm

“Another possibility is that of those reading the comments, almost no one bothered to read the “Real 911” because it was recognized for what it is: crap.”

I find that a bit unlikely, as one has to read it to recognize it.

“…the exercise often becomes very tedious, and there is a certain fatigue that sometimes sets in when confronted once again by the same old calumnies, naked or disguised.”

Well, yes, no kidding. I am not, myself, energized by it, nor do I slap myself upside the head and say, “oh, boy, a fresh opportunity to address the notion that Jews blahblahblah! I have never before encountered this original position! How exciting!”

“As Norman Geras put it: We have to combat the falsehoods, I don’t doubt it. All of them. But I’m also aware of an impulse within myself that, by trying to counter these things, you just play a game that’s imposed on you by someone else… There’s something to be said for just responding to these prejudicial notions with a robust expression of contempt.”

Excellent words. I, however, find it extremely disturbing when people leave it to others to respond with those robust expressions of contempt.

I’m a bit more disturbed when I’m — in this sea of wise and caring people — the only “other.”

It has the curious effect of making one feel a bit alone. Funny, that.

I take, however mistakenly — and I leap to stress, beyond acknowledge, that my reponse is a product of classic fear and worry and is not entirely rational — silence as acceptance. At least, indifference.

One need not engage a troll seriously, and therefore feed it, by acting as if it is making arguments worth refuting, to take note that disgusting and offensive and dangerous assertions have been put forth, and to label them as such.

Particlarly when smoother and more subtle versions of the same argument are deemed acceptable discourse.

(Note that I did not engage the troll with a futile attempt to argue or refute; I didn’t let the comments stand as apparently unworthy of note, either.)

I back Norman’s wise words. I was distressed to see no one respond as he called for.


Henry 03.14.04 at 8:39 pm

I’ve been out of contact for the last couple of days and hadn’t seen the real911 post. if I had, I would probably have taken my usual recourse when dealing with anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering trolls, and deleted it. As it stands, seeing that a number of people have responded effectively, I’ll leave it stand.


Colin 03.14.04 at 8:57 pm


Real911 is beyond “trolldom”. So far beyond as to be risible. I read the message quickly, tried to place its particular idiocies (i.e. Aryan Nations? Lyndon LaRouche?… clearly one of those rightwing conspiracy mongers who are profiting from the anti-“zionist” climate generated by certain Indymedia elements of the left), and thought of replying but was immediately overcome by the fatigue I mentioned above. Was it worth the effort? I was already engaged with some stubbornly purblind commenters on another thread dealing with the Madrid bombings (where, as well, “the answer” is Israel!) and finally judged that this particular thread was dormant. Why waste the outrage? It was only by chance that I looked back in here and saw your comment.

As for Norman’s prescription of “a robust expression of contempt”, I thought of it, struggled to find the right formula, and finally reasoned that the words I had chosen were not nearly robust enough, and would possibly end up praising Real911 with far too faint a damn.

Very depressing…

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