The Long View 2004-03-12: Winds of Black Death

This post from twelve years ago reminds us that horrible things continue to happen.

Requiescat in pace.

Winds of Black Death

Debate continues about who committed yesterday's commuter-train massacre in Madrid. The most dramatic "evidence" so far is this claim:

"The death squad (of the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades) succeeded in penetrating the crusader European depths and striking one of the pillars of the crusader alliance - Spain - with a painful blow," the email said.

Some physical evidence found in a van near the point of departure for the trains also indicates an Islamic connection. Although the explosives used, and the choice of a train as a target, point to Basque separatists as the culprits, the simultaneity of the attacks and the scale of the carnage are the marks of Al Qaeda. The Basque ETA does targeted assassinations; the Islamofascists stage spectacles.

The ETA and Al Qaeda hypotheses are not necessarily exclusive, as we see from this report in October of 2001:

The Basque terrorist organization ETA and bin Laden's al-Qaeda cells have joined forces. Their shared goal: to organize and carry out an attack on the EU meeting scheduled for March 2002 in Barcelona, according to two Spanish publications, Tiempo and El Mundo.

If such a link was really made, it has not been conspicuous during the Spanish government's largely successful anti-terrorist campaign against the ETA. In any case, the main piece of evidence about yesterday's bombing comes from an unreliable source. The Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades have a history of taking credit for things they clearly didn't do, such as last year's blackout in the northeastern United States. Also, the email to the London newspaper was melodramatically apt to a degree that makes it less credible:

"We bring the good news to Muslims of the world that the expected 'Winds of Black Death' strike against America is now in its final stage...90 percent (ready) and God willing near."

That sounds like an allusion to a radiological bomb. Such an attack is perfectly plausible, but I know of no particular reason why Abu Hafs would have anything to do with it. The Madrid bombing could have been done by an Al Qaeda affiliate that has yet to be publicly named.

* * *

The Times of India tried to place the incident in the context of the wider Terror War:

As four powerful bombs [actually 10 bombs on four trains] bloodied the Spanish capital Madrid killing 173, in Europe’s deadliest act of terror after the Lockerbie bombings, major European capitals have begun to wonder if 3/11 - the 11th day of the third month is meant to be the Old World’s 9/11?

The [ETA's] denial of responsibility, said ETA expert Professor Paul Heywood, was unusual. ETA has nearly always claimed responsibility in 35 years of attacks, which claimed 800 lives altogether. If ETA were proved to have pulled off the Madrid spectacular, it would be assured undreamt-of publicity.

The Basque blame for "Arabs" blew a chill wind threw European chancelleries. But, some leading British security analysts said there was a risk of terrorist groups using al-Qaeda and Islamist resistance as a fig leaf for their actions.

Whoever planted the bombs was obviously trying to influence the upcoming Spanish elections. The conventional wisdom is that, if the public believes the ETA was responsible, then the current center-right Popular Party will be favored. On the other hand:

If, however, some indications al Qaeda could have been behind the attacks gain credence, many Spaniards might point a finger at the PP for stirring Muslim wrath by backing Washington and London in Iraq.

I suppose that's possible. On the other hand, I have trouble imagining how an electorate could react to this perceived retaliation by immediately surrendering to those whom they believe to be the perpetrators. You can follow local reaction on Iberia Notes.

* * *

President Bush should be visibly focusing on the Madrid attacks. He is supposed to be conducting a world war. A special meeting of the leaders of the NATO countries might be in order; a meeting of the G8 would be even better. By the same token, his campaign should not be the least shy about invoking 911. As David Broder noted in yesterday's Washington Post, the precedents favor him:

To answer that question, I went back, with help from Washington Post researcher Brian Faler, to 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, almost three years after Pearl Harbor, was running for reelection. What you learn from such an exercise is that Bush is a piker compared with FDR when it comes to wrapping himself in the mantle of commander in chief....

Item: Roosevelt delivered his acceptance speech to the convention by radio from where? From the San Diego Naval Station, because, he said, "The war waits for no elections. Decisions must be made, plans must be laid, strategy must be carried out."

There is something deeply perverse about the Democrats' attempt to put 911 off limits as a national symbol. The Republicans don't own it, but then neither do the families of the 911 victims.

* * *

It's still chilly here in New Jersey, but daffodils are beginning to spring quickly out of the soil. Maybe too quickly:

Plants need carbon dioxide in the way that animals need oxygen - but the 30% extra carbon dioxide in the last 200 years has begun to accelerate growth and change the composition of the world's biggest rainforest, according to a study published today in Nature.

The acceleration is quite dramatic in plants that grow fast naturally: up to 50%. I have not heard similar reports from the temperate zones, but that may be just a matter of time.

Of course, it's just the party line that CO2 is to blame, or that the effect is confined to plants. Those of you with kittens, puppies, and small children should keep an eye on them.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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