Madrid train bombing inquiry still mired in political rows

7th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

8 June 2005, MADRID — As the inquiry into the Madrid train bombings reached its conclusions, it appeared mired in political rows which have dogged the investigation throughout.

8 June 2005

MADRID — As the inquiry into the Madrid train bombings reached its conclusions, it appeared mired in political rows which have dogged the investigation throughout.

Spain's governing Socialists, in a report which was due to be presented in Congress , claim their conservative predecessors manipulated information after the Madrid train bombings for political gain.

That is among the conclusions of Socialist deputies who served on the parliamentary inquiry created to probe the causes and consequence of the attacks, which took place under the premiership of centre-right Jose Maria Aznar of the Popular Party (PP).

But the PP claims the inquiry is not over and has called for more witnesses to be called.

PP parliamentary spokesman Eduardo Zaplana met with reporters and laid out his group's views on the work of the commission investigating the attacks.

The simultaneous bombings of four Madrid commuter trains, which killed nearly 200 people and wounded more than 1,500 others, were carried out by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists authorities say were linked to Al Qaeda.

Zaplana said the PP believed that former prime minister Aznar's government was not caught unawares by the attack, did not lie afterward about evidence relating to the bombings and Spain's participation in the Iraq war was not a factor.

In light of these conclusions and the conviction that Socialist prime minister Zapatero's government has "maximum disinterest in moving ahead with the investigation," he said.

Zaplana said the PP believes that there "are numerous unanswered questions" about who planned the attack, picked the date and organized and coordinated the bombings.

Zaplana said there were "unknowns" related to the "harassment" at party headquarters 11-14 March, the latter the date of the elections in which the PP was defeated.

He said an inquiry marked by "numerous hindrances and obstacles" should not be closed.

"This commission ended the day that the prime minister," Zapatero, "appeared ... who came with the intention of shelving" its work, Zaplana said.

The more-than-400-page report by the inquiry was expected to be formally presented to the lower house of Parliament.

Besides criticism of the former government, the top Socialist on the investigative commission told EFE that the report will offer recommendations on enhancing security and doing more to aid victims of terrorism.

The text will likewise urge the drafting of a multi-party pact against international terrorism modelled on the accord the then-ruling PP and the Socialists signed in 2000 with the aim of placing the battle against Basque separatist terrorism above partisan politics, Alvaro Cuesta said.

The Socialists "do not make the (Aznar) government responsible for the attacks," Cuesta said.

The inquiry demonstrated that the conservatives mounted a "massive deception" in an effort to pin the blame on the Basque group ETA for the 11 March bombings of four crowded commuter trains, which left 191 dead and more than 1,500 wounded.

Cuesta pointed to "manipulation" of the media by the Aznar administration during the period between the massacre and Spain's 14 March general elections to obscure the shift in the investigation away from the Basque separatists and toward Islamic terrorists.

National court judge Baltasar Garzon, who heads Spain's judicial offensive against al-Qaeda and has played a major role in battling ETA, told the legislative panel last July that evidence pointing clearly to Islamic militants as the perpetrators emerged within hours of the bloodbath.

Aznar's government had provided Spanish troops for the US occupation of Iraq and were closely aligned with the Bush administration despite popular opposition to the war.

According to one line of reasoning, Aznar's administration feared that, if it become known radical Islamic extremists were behind the train attacks became known, people would see the assault as a response to Madrid's support for Washington and would chastise the PP at the polls.

Indeed, the Socialists won the general elections despite all previous polls pointing to a conservative victory.

Cuesta said both the commission's findings and the work of investigating magistrates have made it clear that police found no evidence or leads indicating anyone other than Muslim extremists as the people behind the train bombings.

The Socialist-drafted document also faults the Aznar government for a "lack of foresight" regarding the new terrorist threat that emerged with the 9/11 strikes on the United States.

The report said criticised the previous government to "connect the dots" in ways that might have enabled them to prevent the 11 March attacks.

Officials in the PP administration "didn't take into account alerts from the police" about the activity of radical Islamic groups in Spain, Cuesta said, adding that the forthcoming report emphasizes steps needed to avert future atrocities.

He said the report will recommend an audit of the security service's existing capabilities in order to highlight weaknesses and propose corrective measures.

Socialist Party sources told EFE the report is divided into three sections: one addressing the preparation of the attacks and security lapses by authorities; the second dealing with the "massive deception and manipulation" between 11-14 March; and the final portion devoted to recommendations for the future.

After presenting the text, the Socialists plan to meet with all the other parties represented on the investigative commission - except the PP - with an eye toward agreeing on a final draft of the report by 22 June.

The investigating panel met for more than 100 hours and heard from scores of witnesses, including Aznar and current prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero - the first-ever such appearances by any sitting or former Spanish premier.

Several closed sessions were also held to review classified intelligence material.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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