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Cablegate: Spain's 9-11: Eta Massacre in Madrid Three Days

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MADRID 000827



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2014

REF: (A) MADRID 679 (B) MADRID 712

Classified By: A/DCM Carol Urban per 1.5 (b) and (d).

1. (SBU) ETA terrorists struck March 11 in the center of
Madrid, placing bombs on four commuter trains. There were a
total of 13 explosions (including three police-controlled
explosions to disactivate bombs.) The bombs exploded in
the middle of rush hour, from 0835 to 0855 local. Interior
Minister Acebes confirmed that the GOS had "no doubt" that
ETA was responsible. He also confirmed that there were no
advisory calls before the bombs went off. The death toll
continues to mount. According to Acebes and other official
sources, the death toll was 173, with more than 600 wounded.
FM Ana Palacio also commented to the press that ETA was
responsible, as did Popular Party candidate for President of
the Government, Mariano Rajoy.

2. (C) As noted in reftels, ETA experts in the Spanish
police, as well as other Spanish officials, had expressed
concern to us that ETA would seek to strike before the March
14 general elections. Our contacts said ETA would seek to
strike during the high profile election campaign to
demonstrate that, despite suffering unprecedented arrests and
disruption, it had not given up. In the past two months,
police have had success in disrupting two major ETA attempted
attacks. On February 29, two ETA operatives were arrested
about 100 miles east of Madrid. One was driving a truck
laden with 536 kg of explosives, destined for detonation in
Madrid. On December 24 police stopped an attempt by two
ETA operatives to place backpacks laden with explosives on a
train going from Irun (Basque region) to a Madrid train
station. Acebes said that this demonstrated ETA had been
looking for a spectacular attack, with major civilian
casualties. He added: "I will not accept the intolerable
assertion by those who try to divert the culpability to other

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3. (SBU) As a result of these and other police operations,
and the arrest of 126 ETA operatives and accomplices in Spain
in 2003, ETA had not killed anyone in a terrorist attack
since May 2003. The total of three ETA killings for 2003
was the lowest figure in ETA's history (apart from brief
periods of unilateral "cease-fire"). Prior to this attack,
ETA's highest number of victims in a single attack was in
Barcelona in 1987 when ETA exploded a bomb in a Hipercor
shopping center, killing 21. (ETA claimed that it did not
intend to kill so many civilians at Hipercor but that there
had been a problem with the warning call.) Apart from
this, several ETA attacks caused 10 or 12 fatalities, often
against police targets. But ETA had more typically
targeted its victims more discriminately, generally killing
one or two at a time. The total number persons ETA had
killed, before the March 11 Madrid attack, was about 850.

4. (C) This attack comes only three days before March 14
general elections. Both major political parties have
canceled campaign events, including major end of campaign
rallies scheduled for March 12. A spokesman for ETA's
political arm, the de-legalized party Batasuna, Arnaldo
Otegi, claims that the attack could not have been by ETA
since, he claimed, ETA phones in ahead of time. Otegi
attributed the attack to Islamic extremists. President's
Office contacts have called us to stress that the GOS is sure
that the perpetrator is ETA, as Acebes has stated
emphatically. They request that the USG support this in its
declarations and not express any doubt in public comments
about the party responsible.

5. (SBU) The Ambassador has called King Juan Carlos, FM
Palacio, Madrid Region President Aguirre and President
Aznar's Office to express our solidarity with Spain. FM
Palacio made a point in her conversation with the Ambassador
in objecting to media use of the term "Basque Separatists" to
describe ETA. Now more than ever, she stressed, ETA must be
called only by the name of "ETA Terrorists." The Ambassador
will also write letters to Interior Minister Acebes, the
Mayor of Madrid, and other senior officials.

6. (C) Comment: The magnitude of death and injuries caused
by the attack is unprecedented in ETA's history and is, by
far, the worst terrorist attack Spain has suffered. The
fact that there was no warning call combined with massive
civilian casualties represents a major departure in ETA's
modus operandi. The two foiled attacks mentioned (para 2)
above indicate that ETA was already changing its tactics in
favor of indiscriminate attacks. As per reftels, an ETA
under intense police and judicial pressure and lacking in
technical skill for pinpointed attacks appears to have
decided to lash out, not unlike a wounded animal, to cause
maximum civilian harm. As far as the political campaign is
concerned, Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party, have made
waging the war against ETA, without compromise or dialogue,
central to their campaign. An ETA attack, even this
enormous one, should thus not work against the governing
party. However, if ETA's political wing (the de-legalized
Batausna) is able to seed doubt about the perpetrator, some
might blame the PP government for exposing Spain to Islamic
extremist terrorism because of its Iraq policy. Hence the
call to us from Moncloa for the USG to be clear in public
comments that the perpetrator of this tragedy is ETA.

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