Spain fears Al Qaeda’s dream of new Al-Andalus
(India eNews) When Islamist extremists killed 191 people in the Madrid train bombings in 2004, Spaniards felt they had had more than their share of the pain Al Qaeda could cause. Yet police fear the attack, staged by a Spanish cell inspired by the ideas of Al Qaeda, may have been only the beginning.
As Al Qaeda builds a new infrastructure in North Africa, there are increasing signs that it could reach across the Mediterranean to target Spain in an attempt to claim it as part of a historic Muslim territory.
Increased crackdowns by Spanish police on Islamist extremists could also prompt their allies to seek revenge, according to police sources.
The bombings of four Madrid commuter trains on March 11, 2004 shattered Spaniards’ sense of security in relation to Islamist terrorism, revealing how the authorities had underestimated the threat.
Spain has changed its terrorism policy since then, reallocating resources from the fight against Basque separatism to Islamist extremism.
The number of police specializing in that new, global threat has increased tenfold to about 1,500, and police coordination has been improved. More than 300 Islamist suspects have been detained since the Madrid bombings.
Spanish police are concerned about increased extremist activity in North Africa, where the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) has renamed itself Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Moroccan, Tunisian, Libyan, Mauritanian and Malian radicals are believed to be joining the new wing of Al Qaeda, which sends recruits to military training camps in Mali and other Sahel countries.
Spain is especially worried about the growth of extremism in neighbouring Morocco, where most of the Madrid train bombers originated.
Dozens of young Moroccans are constantly crossing over to Algeria to join Al Qaeda, according to Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet.
Radical groups in countries ranging from France to Pakistan are looking for potential attackers also in Spain, where more than 3,000 people consult Islamist websites, the daily El Pais reported.
Dozens of fighters have already been sent from Spain to the Sahel camps and to Iraq. Police fear they could return to Spain and make use of the experience they have gained when staging attacks in Iraq.
Attacks that have been carried out in Morocco and especially Algeria show that the new Al Qaeda branch is passing into action, and police see Spain and France as the European countries most likely to be targeted.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of Al Qaeda’s top leaders, refers to Spain as Al-Andalus, the name under which large parts of Spain were known when they were under the rule of Muslim Moors more than 500 years ago.
The Spanish secret service CNI has even detected the presence of the ‘Group for the Liberation of Al-Andalus’ on the internet.
Extremist websites are also calling for the ‘liberation’ of Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves on Morocco’s northern coast.
‘Spain is a target for theological reasons,’ said Mathieu Guidere, expert on Islamist radicalism at Geneva University. ‘Al Qaeda is convinced that a land that was Muslim must return to the lap of Islam.’
With the verdicts of the Madrid train bombers about to fall in Spain, Al Qaeda may well feel that the time has come to take revenge for the imprisonment of the ‘heroes,’ according to police sources.
Al Qaeda could also target Spain over the presence of its troops in Afghanistan. Spain withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2004.
Yet, as Al Qaeda has metamorphosed into a loose network of cells, which often act on their own, it is impossible for police to monitor all potentially dangerous individuals, a police chief admitted to El Pais.
Police were doing what they could, but ‘in passing, we also light a candle for the Virgin Mary’ to ask for protection, he quipped.
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