- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

A second tragedy of the Madrid bombing is that governments in Europe and the United States are approaching it from separate tables.

Thanks to the work of Spanish and German investigators, direct links have been established between the organizers of this atrocity and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Al Qaeda is a global plot.

Yet the Spanish attacks are being treated in Europe as an exclusively European security problem that can be handled and settled almost as if its American partner did not exist. And American authorities so far have done little except goad the Europeans to get their own law enforcement house in order.

This ought to be treated as a joint European-American law enforcement and prevention emergency — with full sharing of police intelligence and mutual debriefing of suspects. Instead, officials on both sides of the Atlantic concede both the European Union and U.S. law enforcement agencies remain, as they have been for two years or more, hunkered down and glowering, without much cooperation while terrorists run loose.

The convening of a European security conference on the Madrid attacks, at the request of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, excludes the United States and treats this as a problem that begins and ends at the borders of the European Union. But the overlap in personnel between the Spanish attack and September 11 is striking.

Two names have turned up in both attacks:

(1) The Madrid-based Algerian, Abu Dahdah, also known as Imad Yarkas. Dahdah awaits trial in Madrid for conspiring to put together the attacks on the World Trade Center. Both pilots of the Twin Tower attacks were in Spain in the final days before the attack, investigators say, and Spanish investigators have identified Dahdah as the Madrid cell captain of al Qaeda.

Now Dahdah has turned up in the investigation of the Madrid train attack, which took more than 200 lives. He is said to have been an associate and possibly the instructor of…

(2) Jamal Zougam, who is now in custody. He has been identified by Spanish authorities as one of the suspects who used bombs hidden in backpacks connected to mobile phones that detonated on signal. Zougam is also suspected in a recent bombing in Morocco that killed 45, and he is said to have been mentioned in the Spanish indictment for the September 11 plot.

Zougam reportedly had been under surveillance in Spain, but how he got to Casablanca and back without much hindrance hasn’t been explained.

Spain is particularly vulnerable because of its geography. But even an ocean is slim protection. British and American authorities — perhaps the closest allies in the world — can’t find a way to cooperate on pulling off suspect trans-Atlantic passengers before takeoff. Whole planeloads had to be held up or canceled this winter.

As for Western justice, the Germans threw out a conviction against one September 11 conspirator because American authorities refused to make one of its detainees available for questioning. There will be a retrial, but it’s a small matter. Ten or 15 year sentences for these atrocities seem the standard in Germany and throughout Europe — not much of a deterrent.

France after September 11 allowed police to pat down suspects, but only if the suspects agreed to it. Other European states are even more protective of their civil liberties concepts.

U.S. demands were equally unreasonable. Requests for surveillance, background and watch lists of terrorist suspects after September 11 prompted cries of horror. The rejection of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Patriot Act methods and of the Bush administration’s preventive warfare doctrine became a watch cry in Europe long before the Iraq war began.

Spain, though its government was allied to President Bush, has a population much like the rest of Europe — increasingly weary of the Iraq war and opposed to American policies.

Now, in the wake of the Madrid bombing, an antiwar Social Democratic government is ready to take power in Spain, threatening to pull its troops out of Iraq. German and French left-center governments are getting a new partner as the U.S.-European relationship spirals downward.

John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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