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Police chiefs contradict ETA terror claims

8 July 2004

MADRID –Two top police officers giving evidence to the 11 March inquiry Thursday both said by the day after the bombings police knew ETA had not carried out the attack.

The accounts directly contradict the former government’s claims that not until 48 hours after the terrorist attacks, did they know Islamic radicals could have been the bombings.

The head of police Madrid told the inquiry Thursday that by the day after the bombings detectives were only hunting Islamic fanatics.

Miguel Ángel Fernández Rancaño said by the middle of the morning this was their main line of investigation.

The inquiry is trying to establish if the then government of the conservative Popular Party tried to manipulate public opinion after the bombings, to prevent it losing votes in the general election on 14 March.

Rancaño explained to the hearing Thursday that the mobile phone which was found near an unexploded bomb in Vallecas, a part of Madrid, was the “key link” which made police believe Islamic terrorists carried out the bombings.

The arrests of the first suspects, who were all of Arab origin, on 13 March was also as a result of the discovery of the mobile phone.

Rancano’s evidence was different to other police chiefs who told the inquiry Wednesday that Islamic terrorists were not as the only possible group involved until midday on 13 March.

On 13 March, the then conservative Popular Party government were still saying ETA could have been responsible for the attacks.

Angel Acebes, the then Interior Minister, did not make public the police belief that al-Qaeda could have carried out the attacks until the afternoon of 13 March.

Beforehand, Acebes had insisted ETA were the main suspects.

Rancaño explained the delay in disclosing the changing direction of the police investigation was a “formal procedure”.

He said by the morning of 12 March, experts on Islamic terrorism had already been brought into the inquiry.

Earlier, Miguel Ángel Santano, head of the Police Scientific branch, explained that the key mobile phone led to the first arrests.

A document in his department said that the SIM card from this phone was being analysed by  the morning of 12 March.

It was given to the Central Information Unit (UCIE), which deals with Islamic terrorism.

Santano said a document would support what he had told the inquiry.

The Socialist members of the inquiry want to call this report as evidence because earlier, Mariano Rayon, head of the Central Intelligence Unit told the hearing on Wednesday, Islamic terrorists were not suspected until 13 March.

The report would contradict his evidence. 

Rayon said by 13 March he knew that a SIM card for the mobile phone had been sold from a phone shop in Lavapies, a district of Madrid.

One of the suspects, who owned this phone shop, was later arrested.

The ex-head of police, Pedro Diaz-Pintado, was due to give evidence later Thursday.

His evidence is expected to prove crucial in determining when the former government were told about the real nature of the police inquiry -and when they made this public.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news