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Roots of Spanish Terrorism Date to Eighth Century Islam


The March 11 bombings in Madrid Spain were the most deadly terrorist attacks ever on European soil. The bombings shocked the European community into action, including taking a closer look at the Issue of radical Islam on the continent. Jeff Swicord reports on the radical indoctrination of the Madrid bombers.

The early morning of March 11th 2004 started out like any other -- commuters began to arrive at the Atocha train station in downtown Madrid, Spain. Then at 7:37 terror struck.

Ten explosions ripped through four trains killing 192 people. The Madrid bombings brought the war on terror to the European continent.

Manuel Navarrete is chief of the Counter Terrorism Unit with Spain's Guardia Civil, national police service. "On March 11, after what happened in Bali, after the attempts in Istanbul, and also after Casablanca, this event brings us closer, right in the face of Europeans, in the face of Spaniards, a clear view of the threat of Islamic terrorism."

The Madrid bombings raised questions of why Spain was chosen and how the attackers became Muslim radicals.

Part of the answer is geographic. For eight centuries southern Spain was the center of Islam in Europe, starting In the 8th Century when Moors from North Africa brought Islam to Spain.

Pedro Martinez Montanvez is with the Autonoma University of Madrid.

"The Muslim Spain is called Andaluz,” the professor of Islamic Studies told us. “This is the technical term to name all the parts of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Muslim rule. Andaluz in the story of Islam was of special splendor and cultural brightness, of economic development."

Today, the dramatic architecture of that great era can be seen in Granada and in other cities such as Seville, Toledo, and Cordoba. But Spain's estimated one million Muslims are recent immigrants. Less than 10 percent hold Spanish citizenship. Most are from countries in North Africa, such as Morocco and Algeria. They came fleeing poverty and looking for a better life.

According to Mr. Navarette, their desperate situations often make them vulnerable to radicalization. "These are complicated situations, this rather significant Immigration to Spain where an avalanche of people have come fleeing poverty in Morocco and Algeria. Then you have isolated situations where people are more easily manipulated. And over the years, religion has been used more than any other element to manipulate people."

Most radical Islamists who commit terrorist acts in Europe consider themselves Salifists. Salifists believe that Islam has strayed from its origins and call for a restoration of Islam to its original teachings and texts. Traditionally Salifists are non-violent. But in the past decade, more and more Salifists have embraced violence as a means to realize their political objectives. Those objectives are usually the expulsion of Western influence from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and what Arabs refer to as Palestine.

Professor Martanvez says this is a psychological problem left over from the Arab world's colonization by the West in the early 20th Century.

"Most of the Arab world views the founding of Israel as an act of colonialism. This has left a feeling of need to oppose the West's colonization,” said the professor. “Another aspect of this, from a radical Islamist point of view, is that Islam calls for self defense and a propagation of beliefs from a radical perspective."

On April 3, 2004, as police surrounded their apartment building, seven of the Madrid bombing suspects blew themselves up. Witnesses on the scene said they were chanting in Arabic and shouting to return Spain to the Caliphate, a reference to Spain's Islamic past.

"The greatest investment these groups make is not in training, but in Ideology and motivation, radicalism,” said Manuel Navarrete. “And that has to be constant so that when the time comes, and they have the means, they will give their life to the cause, or radicalism they think they are fulfilling."

Seventy suspects where originally arrested and 22 remain in detention. Mr. Navarette says the core group was from Morocco and had been in Spain for several years.

"They were in charge of bringing together new arrivals from Morocco, bringing them into the group and making them work together while keeping all of them at an ideological or radical peak that will at some point lead them to what we call suicide and they call martyrdom."

Their radicalism and violence has now spread to other countries in Europe including England and Holland.