London/Madrid, Mar12 (NNN): The al Qaeda terror network of Osama bin Laden has claimed responsibility for the Madrid train bombings that have killed 190 and left 1400 injured, the Daily Telegraph has reported.
The email said the brigade's 'death squad' had penetrated 'one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain'.
It further said that "This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam."
The email also referred to Spainish Premier Jose Maria Aznar. "Aznar, where is America? Who will protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and others from us?"
The al-Qaeda message referred to last year's attack on Italian paramilitary police serving in the US-led coalition in Iraq. "When we attacked the Italian troops in Nassiriyah and sent you and America's agents an ultimatum to withdraw from the anti-Islam alliance, you did not understand the message. Now we have made it clear and hope that this time you will understand," the statement said.
"We, at the Abu Hafs brigades, have not felt sad for the so-called civilians," it said. "Is it OK for you to kill our children, women, old people and youth in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir? And is it forbidden to us to kill yours?" the claim asked.
the Daily Telegraph report followed after Spain on Friday went into a three-day national mourning in the wake of killings.
On Thursday a total of 10 bombs, nearly all in backpacks, exploded in a 15-minute span along 15 km of the commuter line - running from Santa Eugenia to the Madrid hub of Atocha - killing 190 people and injuring more than 1,240, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said. Police found and detonated three others.
Schools, museums and the Central Bank remained shut on Friday, and huge crowds came out for peaceful demonstrations. The government said Friday's nationwide rally, due to begin at 1900 local time would show solidarity "with the victims, with the constitution and for the defeat of terrorism".
The main Basque city, Bilbao, saw a large rally led by nationalists to condemn the bombs. There were pot-banging protests in Barcelona and candle-lit vigils in Madrid.
It was the worst terror attack in modern Spanish history and the deadliest in Europe since the Lockerbie airliner bomb killed 270 in 1988.
Basque separatist group Eta is being blamed for the attacks, but suspicion has also fallen on al-Qaeda. In an address to the nation on Thursday, King Juan Carlos said "terrorist barbarity" had plunged Spain into the deepest grief.
The bombings, which occurred three days before general elections, started exploding around 7:30 am in a commuter train arriving at Atocha station. Blasts also rocked trains or platforms at two stations on a commuter line leading to Atocha. Worst hit was a double-decker train at the El Pozo station, where two bombs killed 70 people, fire department inspector Juan Redondo said.
Newspapers are describing the attacks as "Spain's 9/11" and they have halted campaigning for Sunday's general election.
The Spanish authorities initially blamed the bombings on the Basque separatist group Eta after experts linked the explosives used to previous Eta attacks. Leading Basque separatist politician Arnaldo Otegi, said he did not believe the group was behind Tuesday's bombs. "Eta has always issued a warning whenever it left a bomb to explode," said Otegi, who formerly led the banned Basque separatist party Batasuna.
And Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said a stolen van had been found in a town near Madrid containing seven detonators and a tape recording of Koranic verses. Four of the trains involved in the attacks passed through the town.
A London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds, has also said it had received an e-mail in which a group linked to al-Qaeda reportedly said it carried out the attacks. The message said a group called the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades had attacked "America's ally in its war against Islam" on behalf of al-Qaeda.
But American intelligence officials have cast doubt on the claim, saying al-Qaeda does not usually claim responsibility so early.
Messages of solidarity have poured in from around the world with President Bush telling the king that America "stood strong" with the people of Spain. Russia's Vladimir Putin calling for "the entire international community" to unite against terror.
US intelligence agencies believe it is too early to conclude who was behind the Madrid explosions, but see the attack as bearing hallmarks of both the Basque separatist group ETA and al-Qaeda, a US official said. "Itís going to be muddy for a while until the Spanish authorities get in there and start doing some forensics," the US official said.
"There are characteristics of each," he said, referring to ETA and al-Qaeda networks. "You have multiple attacks, multiple explosions in different locations in a short period of time which is very al-Qaeda-ish," the official told Reuters.
The State Department also said the US said it had no lead other than the Basque separatists ETA in the strikes. "Iím not aware of any other information other than the information that Spainís been uncovering and providing about ETAís responsibility," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. Asked if al-Qaeda might be involved, Boucher said: "Iím not aware of anything like that at this point."
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