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Aznar Admits Spain Underestimated Threat of Islamic Terrorism - 2004-05-04

Spain's former prime minister has admitted his government failed to accurately recognize the threat of terrorism posed by Muslim radicals before the March 11 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.

Jose Maria Aznar makes the assertion for the first time in his book Eight Years of Government: A Personal View of Spain, published Monday.

He says the government has to bear responsibility, that before the March 11 attacks, the public was not as aware of the threat posed by Muslim extremists, as it was of terrorism by domestic Basque terrorists.

Mr. Aznar says his government's success fighting the armed Basque separatist group, ETA, may have led Spain to lower it guard against the threat of terrorism by Islamic extremists.

One of the hallmarks of Mr. Aznar's government was a crackdown on ETA that yielded hundreds of arrests.

The Aznar government immediately blamed ETA for the March 11 train bombings, which took place just three days before Spain's general election.

Voter anger over how officials handled information about the attacks is widely seen as a major reason for the surprise defeat of Mr. Aznar's conservative party.

Many Spanish voters believed the train bombings were in retaliation for their country's support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq under Mr. Aznar's government. The Spanish people overwhelmingly opposed Spain sending troops to Iraq.

New Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ordered the withdrawal of Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq.

ETA has killed more than 800 people in its nearly 40-year campaign for the creation of a separate Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France.

The European Union and the United States classify ETA as a terrorist organization.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.