Sunday, April 18, 2004

Spain’s former prime minister, whose party lost an election days after a terrorist bombing in Madrid, warned yesterday of a terrorist attack this fall before the U.S. presidential election, a possibility that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the White House is taking seriously.

Jose Maria Aznar told Fox News that terrorists could try to affect the U.S. election by an attack similar to the March 11 train bombings that killed 191 persons and injured 1,800 in Madrid.

In response to his statements, Miss Rice yesterday said the United States is preparing for a possible attack, but she did not list specific protective measures.

“In some ways, it seems like it would be too good to pass up for them, and so we are actively looking at that possibility, actively trying to make certain that we are responding appropriately,” Miss Rice told Fox News Sunday.

Mr. Aznar’s party was the favorite in the election just days before the attack on the four commuter trains, but ended up losing to the socialists, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

It is “obvious that these attacks were looking for a political effect, and that is the basic difference between the 11th of March and the 11th of September,” Mr. Aznar said.

“Speaking quantitatively, the 11th of September was a big attack. But qualitatively speaking, this particular attack here in Madrid tried to get political objectives achieved,” Mr. Aznar said. “Terrorists, they want to demonstrate to the governments of Madrid, Washington, London, Rome” they can buy security by refusing to fight, “and I think that’s a mistake.”

Miss Rice said the United States has “to take very seriously the thought that the terrorists might have learned, we hope, the wrong lesson, from Spain.”

“The hard thing about terrorism is that they only have to be right once, and we have to be right 100 percent of the time. And nobody can be certain that there won’t be another attack. But of course we are concerned about the election cycle,” she said.

The United States has been on Code Yellow, or elevated level of terrorism threat, since Jan. 9, after weeks at the higher level of Code Orange over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Homeland Security officials could not be reached for comment yesterday on new security initiatives in light of the bombings in Spain. However, at Code Yellow, precise threats are analyzed and surveillance of likely targets continues.

Mr. Aznar said he warned Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair “to be extremely careful before elections.”

“They [terrorists] will be as harmful as they can possibly be, if they can do it. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind,” Mr. Aznar said.

Spain yesterday also called for the immediate withdrawal of its 1,200 troops from Iraq, unless the entire mission is handed over to the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos will travel to Washington this week to meet with Miss Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to discuss how Spain might continue to contribute to the war effort without additional military personnel.

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