Spain this month marked the 15th anniversary of the 2004 train bombings that killed 193 people with calls to reopen investigations into the deadliest terrorist attack in the kingdom’s history, amid allegations the government covered up links between jihadist bombers and the Basque separatist group, ETA.
Spain’s highest jurisdictional court, the Audencia Nacional, announced last week it is instructing the attorney general to review classified information on the bombings and consider new evidence. Officials with the attorney general’s office have said they are forming a task force with about 200 law enforcement officers to handle the extensive analysis and security work that may be required if the the politically-charged case is reopened.
At remembrance services in Madrid, conservative opposition leader Pablo Casado called on the government to “declassifiy any information that helps get to the truth, which,” he warned, “someone may try to conceal or use in some way.”
Jose Luis Avalos, a spokesman for the Socialist government, accused Casado of playing politics with the suffering of victims and said the conservative Popular Party had “built a great lie” around the terrorist attacks that took place when it was in power.
At the time of the bombings, Popular Party prime minister Jose Maria Aznar initially blamed ETA. Evidence later surfaced pointing to Islamic terrorists as the ones who put a total of ten explosive devices on commuter trains and at rail stations in various parts of Madrid, all going off within minutes of each other.
Bombings just before elections
The attacks took place just three days before scheduled general elections which the socialists won handily by campaigning on the Aznar government’s failure to identify the perpetrators of one of the worst terror attacks to ever hit Europe.
Al-Qaida claimed the coordinated bombings were punishment for Spain’s alliance with the United States and Britain for the invasion of Iraq in the second Gulf War. Immediately upon replacing Aznar, Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero withdrew the 5,000 troops that Spain had contributed to the U.S.-led multi-national force in Iraq.
An investigation conducted under the socialist government assigned full blame for the bombings to a group of about 20 mostly Moroccan-born suspects who had records as petty criminals and drug dealers and who authorities said had been recruited by al-Qaida in Spain.
Some analysts have since cast doubts on the investigation, which critics say fell short of explaining how the attacks were organized and ignored evidence pointing to possible involvement by the Basque separatist group.
“Zapatero did not allow the security services and the attorney general to weave the threads leading to ETA because it wouldn’t fit his needle hole,” charged investigative journalist Luis del Pino, who has written a book and made a documentary on the bombings.
Link to ETA
The head of the Islamic cell charged with conducting the train bombings, Jamal Ahmidan, operated for years as an underworld drug dealer and gunman in the Basque city San Sebastian, an ETA stronghold.
Suarez Trashorras, the supplier of stolen dynamite used in the attacks, told police that Ahmidan had said he knew two members of ETA who had been arrested while moving tons of explosives days before he picked up the dynamite, according to the newspaper El Mundo.
Ahmidan died along with the six other suspected train bombers when an explosion demolished their hideout during a siege by police.
But a forensic analysis that raised suspicions of possible ETA links was omitted from an official report on the bombings submitted to a Spanish judge leading the investigations in 2005 according to police officials. The same sources have told journalists that traces of boric acid found at an apartment rented by one of the bombers had been only been detected previously at an ETA safe house.
The analysts said that it was a rare method used to preserve or conceal explosives from detection.
“This brings us to the possibility that the author (or) authors of these acts are related among each other and/or may have had the same type of formation and/or could be the same authors,” according to the forensic report prepared by the police scientific unit that later turned up among documents requested by former interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba.
Former National Police Director General Agustin Diaz de Mera has said that police officials who elaborated the official report left out the information due to “political pressures.”