Who could have been responsible for the bomb blasts in three Madrid railway stations that killed over 170 innocent civilians? ETA, the Basque separatist organisation, or the International Islamic Front (IIF) formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998 and presently co-ordinated by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan? The LET has sleeper cells in the UK, which could operate anywhere in Europe.
The timing of the blasts just before the elections in Spain points the needle of suspicion at ETA, which had used improvised explosive devices effectively in the past and had not hesitated to target innocent civilians -- for example, in the June 1987 attack in a Barcelona supermarket which killed 21 shoppers.
It has been reported that while openly blaming the ETA for the Madrid explosions, the Spanish authorities have not ruled out the possibility of this being a reprisal attack by jihadi terrorist elements for the support of the Spanish Government to the USA and the UK for their invasion and occupation of Iraq and for sending Spanish troops to Iraq, which were the target of attacks by elements of the IIF last year, resulting in fatal casualties.
The ETA itself has not so far claimed responsibility for the blasts. While it is a ruthless organisation, till now, it had not come to notice for such co-ordinated attacks, which must have involved the use of large quantities of explosives, more than the ETA was known to have access to.
Madrid has a large number of immigrants of Moroccan origin, many of them sympathetic to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda. Moroccan components of Al Qaeda and the IIF had participated in some of their terrorist strikes, the last of them being in Casablanca in Morocco last year. Apart from Spain's role in Iraq, its close co-operation with the USA in the hunt for the dregs and sleeper agents of Al Qaeda has also earned it the wrath of Al Qaeda and the IIF.
There are other countries too which have been targeted by Osama bin Laden -- the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, the West Asian countries co-operating with the US etc. Why should they choose Spain at the present moment?
Most probably because there were gaps in physical security there and any terrorist would be tempted to take advantage of such gaps.
These are still speculative theories at present. One has to await concrete evidence before coming to
a definitive conclusion.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies,Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.