- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Spanish candor

Spanish authorities “did not lie, not for one second” about what they knew about who was behind last week’s terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spanish Ambassador Javier Ruperez told a packed forum at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday.

The government of outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch U.S. ally in the Iraq war, initially blamed Basque terrorists for the attacks, which killed 201 persons. Political analysts say a major factor in the opposition Socialist Party’s victory over the weekend was voter anger at the government when it was subsequently revealed that Islamist terrorists were the prime suspects in the attack.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in an interview with a Philadelphia television station, endorsed the theory, saying “probably part” of the government’s defeat was that the Aznar government “didn’t get what information did exist to the public.”

But Mr. Ruperez, at one time a senior parliamentary leader of Mr. Aznar’s Popular Party, strongly rejected the idea the government tried to divert blame in the train bombings for its own political advantage, our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

The ambassador said it was “quite normal to assume” that Basque separatists were responsible because operatives of ETA, the Basque terrorist group, had been picked up carrying explosives twice in the months before the attack, in at least one case explicitly targeting train stations. As information emerged pointing to an al Qaeda connection, the government immediately released that as well.

“To tell you the truth, it is my very confirmed opinion that the government didn’t lie at all,” Mr. Ruperez said. “I know very well that is not the impression that part of the public opinion got, but they did not lie, not [for] one second.”

The ambassador said it is too soon to predict the exact policies of the incoming government of Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has sharply criticized the Iraq war and pledged to withdraw about 1,300 Spanish troops now serving there.

“My advice and my conviction would be that we have to wait and see how things are going to take shape,” Mr. Ruperez said. “Among other things, electoral campaigns are always heated moments in public life, [and] the last few days of our electoral campaign have been especially heated. I think that when the calm goes back to the body politic and to the national public opinion, things will be looked at in a different way.”

Saudis kill ‘evildoers’

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan is praising his country’s security forces for killing one of the kingdom’s most wanted terrorists, who worked closely with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“We are uprooting the al Qaeda network, and we are going after the money and the mind-set that supports these evildoers,” Prince Bandar said.

He said Saudi authorities came under fire on Monday when they tried to arrest Khaled Ali Haj, who was on the country’s list of the 26 most wanted terrorists. Haj and another suspect, Ibrahim bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammed al-Mezeini, a Yemeni, had stopped at a traffic checkpoint in the capital, Riyadh.

The security forces killed both men in the ensuing gunbattle, the Saudi Embassy said. No one else was injured.

In a search of the terrorists’ car, security forces found six hand grenades, two Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition, three 9 mm pistols and the equivalent of $137,000 in cash.

Haj was trained by al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, where the terrorists maintained camps under the Taliban regime that was toppled by U.S. forces in 2001. The embassy did not release any information about al-Mezeini.

Prince Bandar added that his government has arrested more than 600 terror suspects since the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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