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Attacks had no link with Iraq: Aznar
Updated: 2004-11-29 22:13

Former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar insisted that the March 11 Madrid train bombings were not a by-product of his support for the war in Iraq and told a parliamentary inquiry that his government told the truth in the aftermath of the blasts.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar looks at his documents before testifying before a special parliamentary commission in Madrid investigating the March 11 attacks November 29, 2004.[Reuters]
"The March 11 attack had nothing to do with the intervention in Iraq," Aznar said Monday as he gave testimony to a parliamentary inquiry which since July has been hearing evidence from politicians, intelligence officials and police in connection with Spain's worst ever terrorist attack which killed 191 people.

"We told the truth -- it was others who lied and engaged in manipulation," insisted Aznar as he defended his government's initial decision to pin the blame for the blasts, which also injured close on 2000 people, on armed Basque separatist group ETA.

Spain's worst ever terrorist attack came with the country engaged in the final days of campaigning for a March 14 general election which Aznar's rightwing Popular Party (PP) had been set to win under leader Mariano Rajoy, Aznar having long before decided not to seek a third term in office.

The government's insistence that the bombings were the work of ETA, even as evidence emerged fingering Islamic extremists angered by Aznar's decision to back the US-led war in Iraq, culminated in a surprise Socialist Party (PSOE) victory.

Some voters appeared to have changed sides, considering that the PP, by blaming ETA and even initially ruling out any other line of inquiry, had attempted to mislead the public.

Aznar and his party say the mainly Moroccan Al-Qaeda affiliates who claimed responsibility for March 11 and ETA have links.

"Today this (is) an irrefutable fact .. there are friendships and contacts (made) in prison," Aznar insisted.

"I don't believe in spontaneous demonstrations," he added, referring to the demonstrations outside PP headquarters two days after the blasts.

On Monday, several dozen people gathered outside parliament, some brandishing Spanish flags and showing their support for Aznar, but others holding up placards deriding the former leader.

A protester shows off his red painted hand in front of a banner reading "Aznar is responsible" as he takes part in a protest outside Parliament November 29, 2004. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar testified before a special parliamentary commission investigating the March 11 attacks. [Reuters]
Some placards bore slogans showing a blood-red hand and the legend "Aznar responsible," while others wore t-shirts with "transparency" on one side and the name of a victim on the other.

Aznar accused the Socialists and the media of manipulating the situation to their own ends -- their goal the electoral defeat of his administration.

"It was others who lied," Aznar charged, adding that the March 13 demonstrations against his party had constituted "a serious alteration of the laws of the electoral game."

Spanish electoral law demands a "day of reflection" the day before a general election without any campaigning.

Aznar said that there had been "enormous manipulation" in the media, particularly Cadena Ser radio, traditionally close to the Socialist Party (PSOE), following the attacks and that his government had faced "aggresssive, sectarian, anti-democratic and false" claims.

Aznar insisted the government had been "quick to inform (the electorate) transparently."

"The smoking gun of a supposed lie by the government which I led ... has not appeared. We told the truth as far as we knew it," Aznar insisted.

PSOE secretary Jose Blanco had predicted on Sunday that Aznar would seek to "de-legitimise the March 14 election result".

Aznar responded that it was his opponents who had sought "to create a climate of de-legitimisation of the government."

He noted that the PSOE had issued a formal statement shortly after the blasts to the effect that "ETA has tried to intervene in the campaign," while moderate Basque nationalists forecast that ETA was writing its final chapter.

Aznar's foreign minister Ana Palacio sent a telegramme on March 11 to Spain's ambassadors telling them "to confirm ETA was responsible."

Two weeks ago, Spain's supreme court handed down the first sentence connected to the blasts, giving six years in youth detention to a teenager who admitted handling explosives used in the attack.

In taking the floor before the inquiry Aznar became the first first former head of government ever to appear before such a commission since the restoration of Spanish democracy following the 1975 death of Franco.

Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is scheduled to appear before the inquiry on December 13.

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