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Report: Group claims truce with Spain
Updated: 2004-03-18 09:22

The Islamic militant group that claimed responsibility for last week's Madrid train bombings has called a truce with Spain to give the new government time to withdraw troops from Iraq, a London-based Arabic-language newspaper said Wednesday.

The Al Hayat daily newspaper said it received a statement from the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, which earlier said it orchestrated the bombings to punish Spain for supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The blasts killed 201 people.

But the United States believes the group, which takes its name in memory of al-Qaida's fallen No. 3, lacks credibility and its ties to al-Qaida are tenuous. In the past, the group has made claims about various events to which it was not connected such as blackouts last year in the United States, Canada and London.

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday the latest statement should be viewed with skepticism because the group has made false claims in the past. The official said it was unclear what relationship the group has with al-Qaida.

"They claim to be al-Qaida's voice, but they're not," the official said.

On Wednesday, Moroccan authorities told The Associated Press that emerging evidence in the Madrid attacks points toward Ansar al-Islam, a guerrilla group blamed for terrorist strikes in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco.

Some of the other Islamic groups believed to have a link to the bombings are Salafia Jihadia and Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

Spanish legislator Gustavo de Aristegui, a parliamentary spokesman for the ruling but outgoing Popular Party, said the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri is "not capable of committing these attacks, much less of declaring a truce."

The group "is, according to anti-terrorism experts, not a very reliable terrorist organization because they have never really acted in any terrorist act," he told the AP.

The group's latest statement, dated March 15, will be published in Thursday's editions of Al Hayat. The paper did not provide a text Wednesday.

An editor at the Saudi-owned paper said the group announced it was stopping all activity on Spanish territory until further notice to gauge the intentions of the new government of prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The group said the Madrid attacks destroyed one of the evil pillars of the Crusaders, according to the newspaper editor.

Zapatero said Wednesday the incoming government intends to stick by its pledge to withdraw the 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30. He also criticized the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, saying it was "turning into a fiasco."

Outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a strong supporter of U.S. President Bush in the invasion of Iraq, lost the Spanish parliamentary elections Sunday three days after the bombings.

Last week, another Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, said it received a claim of responsibility issued by the same group in the name of al-Qaida.

Spanish authorities increasingly suspect an al-Qaida-linked cell carried out the bombings.

An Arab phone salesman from Morocco, Jamal Zougam, is emerging as the key suspect in the train bombings. He was arrested two days after the attacks.

Spanish police were interrogating two other Moroccans, including Zougam's half brother, and two Indian men.

The Spanish daily El Pais reported that police also suspect five other Moroccans, who remain at large, of participating in the bombings.

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