It seems increasingly likely that that the Madrid bombers were Islamic jihadis from North Africa who were members of groups aligned with – but apparently not part of – al-Qaida. More speculatively, the bombers may have been working in tandem with the Basque separatist movement, ETA.
Spanish authorities have arrested one Algerian and three Moroccans and are looking for at least five more Moroccans, one of whom is linked to the group blamed for a bombing in Casablanca last May that killed 43.
“From the nature of the bombings and the known ties of some of the initial suspects arrested by Spanish authorities, American officials said they believed that the attack might fit a new model in which local Islamic radical groups, perhaps only loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda, might carry out attacks without the direct coordination of Qaeda leaders,” the New York Times reports (free site registration may be required).
Terror by disparate Islamic groups with similar objectives could help explain the seeming total lack of warning by intelligence agencies that a major attack might be imminent.
Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, reports that, “CIA officials believe some hard-liners in the Basque separatist group ETA may have teamed up with Islamic extremists -- not necessarily al-Qaida -- in carrying out Thursday's devastating explosions on Spanish trains … “
The surprise election result Sunday in Spain, in which the Socialists party upset the ruling Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, is being attributed in part to public perception that the government was trying to pin the bombings on ETA in order to mask the likely involvement of Islamists who may have been retaliating against Spain for sending troops to join the U.S. coalition in Iraq. Now it appears the government may have had it half-right, though it does indeed seem to have been trying to downplay any Muslim involvement.
It’s worth noting that ETA is known to have had contacts with Muslim terrorist organizations.