CNI had no ETA leads after March 11 attack, ex-PM Aznar writes

Latest edition of memoirs covers controversial days in wake of Atocha massacre

Nearly 10 years after the simultaneous bomb attacks on Madrid commuter trains that left 191 people dead, and a court later blamed on a home-grown Islamist terror cell, former Prime Minister José María Aznar has revealed that Spanish intelligence services had no leads suggesting that Basque group ETA was behind the massacre, even though he and his government publicly supported this hypothesis from the first moment. This and other revelations are included in part two of his memoirs, entitled El compromiso del poder(or, The obligation of power).

According to the memoirs, two days after the attacks of March 11, 2004 — which came just days before national elections were scheduled — the conservative leader met with his interior minister and pored over a report from Jorge Dezcallar, then the head of the National Intelligence Center (CNI). This report, writes Aznar, said that “we are not in a condition to either support or reject either of the two major alternatives,” in reference to ETA or Islamists being behind the attacks. “Neither before nor after the attack has anything at all been detected either inside or outside Spain that might indicate preparations for what took place. There is complete silence, as attested by all contact maintained with the intelligence services in our area or in the Arab world. Nobody detected anything, either before or after (and that’s despite the fact that the NSA in the US is on top of this 24 hours a day, as a matter of top priority),” writes Aznar in his summary of the report.

This version coincides with the events of the following days, when the ruling Popular Party (PP) pressured the intelligence services to issue a statement — a highly unusual move — to confirm that they had both lines of investigation open and were not ruling out either possibility. On the day before national elections, radio network Cadena SER aired a story asserting that the CNI was working with the hypothesis of an Islamist attack “with 99 percent probability.”

“This is not true and it makes no sense to say that we have completely dropped one line of investigation for another,” read the CNI release. By that point, three Moroccans and three Spaniards of Indian descent had been already arrested.

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