Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


promising way forward was to attack Spanish troops in Iraq

rather than civilian targets in Spain. Of course, what is often

forgotten is that this was not a stand-alone operation. In fact,

the campaign—or that is what the perpetrators saw it as—continued

after the Madrid attack, and it even continued after the

withdrawal from Iraq had been announced. They were quite

keen to carry out further attacks, and indeed on 2 April, three

weeks after the attack and almost three weeks after the announcement

of the withdrawal from Iraq, the Spanish police

found an explosive device on the track of a high-speed train.

That bomb, not the investigation of the initial attack, then led

to the dramatic scenes in Yaganis, the suburb of Madrid, where

the remaining members of the network blew themselves up in

a flat realising that they were surrounded by police. So it was

that attack that actually led to the uncovering of the entire network,

and that attack was meant to be carried out long after

the withdrawal from Iraq had been announced.

So the operational relationship between al-Qaeda and the

Madrid bombers was actually quite complicated; it was even

more complicated than what I have just tried to explain. There

is no doubt that this attack was inspired by al-Qaeda, that Iraq

was an important part of the rationale, but it is by no means

clear whether it was intended by the people who carried out

these attacks as an act of coercion specifically directed towards

Spain’s participation in the Iraq war.

Let us go back to the conventional wisdom and reiterate some

of the findings we have just made. First of all, it is not at all

clear that al-Qaeda was directly responsible for the attacks. It

is not clear that this was specifically meant to force a withdrawal

from Iraq, and it is also not clear whether the Spanish

people saw themselves as giving into al-Qaeda blackmail. That

is how it was portrayed, but many Spanish people would tell

you an entirely different story.

Let me conclude therefore by telling you something that is

perhaps surprising, namely that it all does not matter. The narrative,

however true it is, has stuck. The Jihadist movement,

al-Qaeda included, has wholeheartedly embraced that narrative.

If you look at Jihadist web sites, if you look at pronouncements

of al-Qaeda leaders, Madrid is the operation that is most

frequently cited as an operational success after 9/11. Ayman


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