Having been out of the country over the weekend, I have only now caught up with this fascinating and important New York Times report on a terror plot that has just been busted up in Spain. Acting on a tip from a French informant, Spanish officials arrested fourteen suspected jihadists on January 19; several others are believed to have escaped.
All of the suspects are either Pakistanis or of Pakistani descent, which shows that country’s growing importance as a terrorism hub. While many other terrorism plotters in Europe have previously been linked to Pakistan (including the 2005 London subway bombers) this is apparently the first case where Pakistanis with no links to Europe have been dispatched specifically to carry out such attacks.
They were planning to carry out a series of bombings in Spain and then in other European countries designed to drive NATO troop contingents out of Afghanistan. (Spain has 740 soldiers in Afghanistan.) The Times reports:
“If they didn’t comply, there would be one in Germany,” the informant said, according to a secret transcript of his statements, whose contents were verified by several people with access to the document. “If they didn’t comply, France. If they didn’t comply, Portugal. If they didn’t comply, Britain. There are many people ready there.”
Now where would Al Qaeda get the idea that it could drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan by setting off bombs in Europe? Hmmm. Could it be because precisely that strategy worked in 2004?
On March 11, 2004, jihadists set off a series of bombs on Madrid’s commuter trains that killed 191 people and wounded 1,841. Three days later Spanish voters went to the polls and delivered a victory for the Socialist party which had pledged to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq (and which had been trailing the center-right Popular Party before the bombings). That Al Qaeda is trying with Afghanistan the same strategy that worked for Iraq is simply evidence, if any were needed, that it is impossible to appease terrorists. But that won’t stop some Europeans from trying.