The number 11 not only became a black date for Americans, but also for the Spanish. Many political analyses and investigations linked the Madrid attacks – on the Spanish commuter train system – with 9/11. Several Spanish and French media referred to the event as the “Spanish 9/11”.
While 9/11 was the most barbaric and inhuman attack in American history since Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Madrid bombings, which killed 201 people and injured more than 1,800 were the deadliest terror attacks in Europe since the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, and the worst terrorist assault in Spanish history.
Early official statements identified ETA as the prime suspect, but the group, which usually claims responsibility for its actions, denied any wrong-doing. Later evidence strongly pointed to the involvement of Al Qaeda, and accused several suspects of Moroccan origin.
Two million Madrileños demonstrated in the pouring rain, and marched from Plaza de Colón to Atocha, with cries such as "We were all on that train", "Spain united will never be defeated", "They are chickens without their guns," or "Murderers, murderers".
The former Prime Minister José Maria Aznar began a campaign immediately after the attacks to convince the public, opinion-leaders and the media that ETA, who has claimed responsibility for more than 800 deaths since 1968, was behind the bombings and that it was the prime suspect. However, a video-tape released showed an Al Qaeda spokesperson claiming responsibility for the attacks.
Since the bombings took place three days before a general election, they soon became the subject of political controversy. Opposition politicians and commentators urged the government to be clearer and more forthcoming about the information they had on the authors.
In the afternoon of March 13, five suspects were arrested around Madrid in connection with the sale and falsification of a cell phone and pre-paid card found inside an unexploded backpack found at El Pozo station. Three of them were Moroccans, and two were Spaniards of Indian origin. The two Spaniards were picked up for questioning and were not formally arrested. They remained in custody the next day and were released two days later.
The three Moroccans were identified as Jamal Zougam, 30; Mohamed Bekkali, 31, a mechanic; and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, a worker; all three of them were from northern Morocco. The two Indians were identified as Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar. Jamal Zougam had been listed as an Al Qaeda operative in Spanish judge Angel Acebes's 700-page indictment last fall of Osama bin Laden and others for the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Acebes told reporters that the three Moroccans, Zougam, Bekkali, and Chaoui were known to authorities because of past criminal records in Spain and that at least one may have been involved in a homicide.
In March 14, the immediate political response of the Madrid bombings was the defeat of the Popular Party (P.P), and the coming to office of the Socialist Party (SP). The defeat of the P.P was widely attributed to anger among voters who accused the government of withholding information on the 3/11 investigation to save the election. Angry voters also accused the government of its military backing of the US-led war on Iraq.
The opposition Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), led by José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, won a plurality of seats in Congress of Deputies, and was able to form a government with the support of minor parties.
The day after the elections, the newly elected Prime Minister Zapatero announced his intention to form a minority PSOE government, without a coalition. Two minor left-wing parties, Republican Left of Catalonia and United Left, immediately declared they would support Zapatero's government. Zapatero also said that he would withdraw the 1,300 Spanish troops in Iraq by June on condition that the UN took control over Iraq. Claiming the withdrawal of the troops, Zapatero overturned the policy of close collaboration with the United States in the war on terrorism.
Arrests of other suspects continued. The San Sebastián police also detained an Algerian named Ali Amrous who allegedly had talked about a terrorist attack in Madrid two months before it occurred.
Five additional suspects were arrested on March 18 around Alcalá de Henares. Three of the suspects were identified as Moroccans Farid Oulad Ali, a construction worker, Abderrahim Zbakh and Saad Houssaini; a Spanish citizen was arrested in the Asturias region in northern Spain, for investigation of robbery of explosives; and a fifth as Mohamed El Hadi Chedadi, the brother of Said Chedadi, an alleged Al Qaeda operative arrested in 2001. One of those arrested was suspected of a major role in the attack and was also wanted over the Casablanca bombings.
These attacks forced the European Union to call for an urgent meeting of the European interior ministers and security chiefs in order to look into ways to counter the wave of terrorist attacks. In Brussels, the EU ministers agreed on a new counter-terrorism coordinator to pull together the intelligence and security activities of the police and intelligence agencies to improve the sharing of information on known extremists.
Morocco, which was also a target of Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in May 16 that killed 42 people and injured hundreds more, has been cooperating with countries concerned by the fight against terrorism, particularly with Spain before and after the attacks. Moroccan security experts went to Spain two days after the attacks to help in the investigation. These experts were members of a team that had already spent nearly a year working with Spanish officials on the investigation into Casablanca's terrorist attacks.
Fearing a backlash on Moroccans living in Spain after the attacks, Nabil Benabdallah, the Moroccan minister of Communication and spokesman of the government, said in a statement that “people should understand that the majority of Moroccans living abroad contribute to the economy of their host countries, respecting their laws and regulations”, and that “the presence of some individuals who are not part of this majority should be dealt with wisely.”
Many Moroccans gathered outside the Spanish consulate in Tangiers and in other cities, waving banners against terrorism and chanting for peace.
In the capital Rabat, leaders, including government ministers, and members of the Royal family, attended a special Mass in the Catholic Church to commemorate the dead, and express their solidarity with the Spanish.
So far the investigation has focused on suspects from Morocco. Spanish police have 19 suspects in custody including Almorabit and El Gnaout. Among them are 11 Moroccans or Moroccan-born Spaniards, two Indians, two Spaniards and three Syrians. Fourteen of the suspects have been charged with mass murder or collaboration with or belonging to a terrorist group. Spain's Interior Ministry has identified the Al Qaeda-linked Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group as the prime suspect in the bombings.
Investigators have also said they are working with foreign security services to track down other suspects, including Abdelkarim el Mejjati, the suspected operational leader of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group; Jamal Ahmidan, 33, identified as having rented the house where the Madrid bombs were prepared; brothers Mohamed Oulad Akcha, 28, and Rachid Oulad Akcha, 33, and Abdennabi Kounjaa, 28, who the documents say spent time in the house; and Said Berraj, 31, for an unspecified role in the attacks.
Spain could have prevented these attacks. Moroccan officials said that Spain failed to act promptly on warnings about suspected Islamist extremists, including Jamal Zougam who left Morocco weeks before the Casablanca bombings. The lack of communication between the countries' security forces resulted from the tense relations under the leadership of Jose Maria Aznar.
The new Socialist government is considered more conciliatory towards Moroccan concerns, and is expected to foster better relations with Morocco.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 12/31/2004 | 3:38 pm
Spain's newly-elected Prime Minister's José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visit to Morocco, April 24, brought new dynamism to Moroccan-Spanish Relations. It has become a tradition for new Spanish Prime Ministers to make Morocco their first foreign trip.
Zapatero was received by HM King Mohammed VI in the Royal Palace in Casablanca. Then, in a park in the city centre of Casablanca, the two leaders unveiled a marble plaque dedicated to the memory of the 44 victims of the 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings series of suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003.
After his talks with His Majesty, Zapatero told journalists that both countries had been "victims of horrendous attacks". He added that “Spain and Morocco will join forces to fight against terrorism.”
His one-day visit came as 14 Moroccans were being held in Spain suspected of involvement in the Madrid bombings. Prior to his brief visit, the new Spanish premier said his country needs to improve its relations with Morocco without any mediation "to guarantee stability and neighbourliness" in the western Mediterranean.
Many political analysts had already predicted that Moroccan-Spanish relations would improve and be back to normal with the coming into power of the Spanish socialists. These relations have always been a subject of controversy, basically due to their sensitivity and complexity. Fishing rights for Spanish fishermen off Morocco's Atlantic coast have been a long-standing source of disagreement between the two countries, besides other issues including illegal immigration, Spain's enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and other important issues.
During the leadership of former Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, tensions between the two countries reached their peak. The Spanish government had provoked Morocco many times, especially when Jose Maria Aznar decorated his soldiers who had expelled a few Moroccans from the Leila Island, in the summer of 2002, with medals of a “utopic victory”.
Just days before the quake that struck the northern region of Morocco on February 24, an “immature” remark by former Spanish Defense Minister Federico Trillo increased tensions between the two neighbors over the disputed Mediterranean islet. Trillo angered Morocco when he told supporters that he wished the 2002 military crisis with Rabat over the uninhabited Leila island had occurred earlier to allow Spain to exploit fishing rights in Moroccan waters.
These tensions became more serious after the arrest of some Moroccans suspected of implication in the March 11 Madrid attacks. However, the new elected Prime Minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had pledged to improve these relations.
Dr Lhassan Bouquentar, professor of international relations at the University of Rabat, said the new socialist government has already established good relations with the Moroccan political parties, especially the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP). This indicated Spain's willingness to improve its relations with Morocco. According to him, Zapatero's government will communicate more with Morocco, a dialogue characterized by mutual respect and more coordination. He added that the two countries have to work closely to reach a just and logical solution to all the issues that affect them. Dr Bouquentar, however, stressed that Spain should adapt an objective position concerning the problem of the Sahara because it is well aware that solving this problem is necessary for the political stability of the whole region.
Mr. Laarbi Lamsari, member of Al Istiqlal, former minister of Communication and expert in Moroccan-Spanish relations, also said that Morocco and Spain will enter a new era of good relations. He considered “the visit of Zapatero an opportunity to show the new spirit of close collaboration that should govern relations between Rabat and Madrid.” Mr. Lamsari added that Morocco and Spain have to reach an agreement concerning all the hot issues that are a source of tension between the two countries, including security, clandestine migration, Sahara, fishing rights and so on.
Concerning clandestine emigration, Mr. Lamsari thought that the only solution to combat it is to invest in Morocco, especially in the north. “Morocco cannot handle the problem of clandestine emigration by itself without the help of its counterpart Spain.”
Dr Bouquentar, on the other hand thought that not only regional cooperation but also international assistance is needed to face the problem of clandestine emigration. He said that a possible regional cooperation will not only help Morocco and Spain to fight illegal emigration, but also to combat the rise of the expanding networks of smugglers who encourage desperate young people to emigrate illegally, as they propose a “ready-made” new life, “proper” papers and promises of employment which, in most cases, mean undeclared work or prostitution.
He added that Morocco became highly conscious of this problem when the King created two new administration services to fight illegal emigration and crack down on human trafficking networks, namely the Directorate of Migration and Border Surveillance, and the Emigration Observatory. This initiative, first announced by H.M King Mohammed VI in November 2003, was widely welcomed in Spain.
It seems that both Morocco and Spain want to overcome difficulties and look at the future with more optimism. Moroccans and Spaniards will have to increase cross cultural programmes and communicate more in order to improve their relations.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 5/22/2006 | 3:11 pm
The Moroccan Meteorological office denied on Monday rumours, which stated that a Tsunami could hit the Atlantic Ocean after the fall of fragments of a comet that would pass close to earth on May 25, MAP news agency reported.
This denial comes after the Ufological Research Center warned on its website of a Tsunami danger that would affect several countries, including Morocco.
Eric Julien, author of La Science Des Extraterrestres made an alert in his website about Tsunami.
He claims that he has received information psychically, which is corroborated by scientific data, according to which on May 25, 2006 a giant tsunami will occur in the Atlantic Ocean, brought about by the impact of a comet fragment which will provoke the eruption of under-sea volcanoes.
He said that waves up to 200 m high will reach coastlines located above and below the Tropic of Cancer. He added that all of the countries bordering the Atlantic will be affected to greater or lesser destructive and deadly levels.
Eric Julien's history is full of defamation and lies. In May 2004, he claimed that he was kidnaped by aliens to teach him how to drive UFOs.
The head of the Meteorological Office, Mustapha Janah, told MAP news agency "the Ufological Research Center does not have technical means" to observe this kind of phenomenon.
Citing the American space agency "NASA," the official noted that the comet will pass away from planet earth at about 10 million kilometres, excluding hence any risk of a Tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean.
Yet, it didn't prevent many Moroccans from Panicking. Some already packed to go to the mountains; others decided to travel to another country. Even those who believe it is only a rumor are anxiously waiting for May 25.
The last Tsunami hit the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004. It was caused by a 9- magnitude earthquake which killed nearly 150,000 people throughout the region, and left more than 1.5 million homeless.
The 2004 tsunami is the worst in recorded history. Prior to 2004, the deadliest recorded tsunami in the Pacific Ocean was in 1782, when 40,000 people were killed by a tsunami in the South China Sea.
The tsunami created by the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa is thought to have resulted in 36,000 deaths.
The most deadly tsunami between 1900 and 2004 occurred in 1908 in Messina, Italy, on the Mediterranean Sea, where the earthquake and tsunami killed 70,000.
The most deadly tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean resulted from the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which, combined with the toll from the actual earthquake and resulting fires, killed over 100,000.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 1/31/2005 | 6:53 pm
Rabat---Thousands of 'Islamists' took to the streets, yesterday in Rabat, in support of Attajdid newspaper, which is close to Morocco's moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD). The newspaper had called the Tsunami's disaster "an act of divine retribution" for South-East Asia's sex-tourism industry.
The paper also outraged 'moderates' by implying that Morocco risked the same fate because of a growth of prostitution and sex tourism in the kingdom, a phenomenon it described as a "calamity".
Abdelilah Benkirane, the newspaper's director said the article represented the personal opinion of its author and added that the comments had been taken out of context.
Attajdid has since published another justification of its stance. It said: "We believe, as all Muslims always have, that earthquakes and disasters depend on the will of God. We are surprised that people who think in this way have their right to free expression scorned.''
On his part, Mustapha Rmid, a member of the PJD party, told Morocco Times that this sit-in is “a coward dirty game”
Human-rights groups and political parties, on the other hand, strongly condemned the comments about the tsunami.
The Association for Combating Hatred and Racism said that “the article was an insult not only to the victims of the tsunami but to all human beings and proved that "fundamentalism is the natural father of terrorism."
Souad El Khamal, president of the association of May 16 victims, also denounced what she called “terrorist thought”. She added that “this kind of thought is what prepared the ground for the May 16 terrorist attacks in 2003, which killed more than 40 people.”
“The difference between the pre-May 16 attacks and now is that people did not talk about these ideas. Now people say with loud voice no to terrorism,” said El Khamal, who lost both her husband and son in the May 16 attacks.
Faouzia El Aasouli, also from the association against racism and terrorism, told Morocco Times that they will soon organize a conference, where they will announce the creation of a coordination committee to fight against all forms of fundamentalist thought”
“Moroccans, through this sit-in, proved again that they are against all forms of racism and terrorism,” said El Aasouli, insisting that “Morocco is a land of tolerance, democracy and diversity.”
Chabiba Ittihadia”, youth section of the Socialist Union of Popular forces (USFP/socialist party in government), also said “it disapproves this shameful journalistic handling and the despise it shows for thousands of victims, as well as the attitude that is based on non-scientific reasons".
Protesters held hundreds of banners citing contradictory slogans. Some denounce the “fundamentalist thought”; others defended the newspaper's right to express its views.
Controversial sit-ins in response to intense public debate, did not take place in Morocco since the 2000 demonstrations for and against the national plan for the integration of women into development, which served as a basis to the adoption of the 2004 family Code.
The article of Attajdid has been condemned on Moroccan television 2M and has prompted calls for censorship of the press.
The PJD said about 5,000 people joined a demonstration supporting Attajdid after the comments were condemned on Moroccan television.
Saad Eddine El Othmani, the PJD's Secretary General, was absent in yesterday's demonstration. Observers say that by not attending the sit-in, El Othmani want to send a clear message to officials and the public opinion that the PJD is not concerned with the problem, and that it only concerns the newspaper who wrote the story.
The toll of dead and missing from the Dec. 26 tsunami, triggered by a massive earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean, has risen to more than 298,000, according to figures collated from governments and health officials.
Tsunami still sparks tension, as the Tsunami-ravaged countries at a two day conference in Thailand, held last weekend, failed to resolve differences over which one should host a disaster warning centre. They, instead, decided to set up smaller facilities in several countries to help prevent future catastrophes.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 3/5/2006 | 5:02 pm
Ten dissatisfied jobless have attempted a new collective suicide in Rabat by swallowing poison and setting themselves alight. Two members of the group were arrested by the Police on Thursday, reported the partisan French-speaking daily, L'opinion.
The Rabat police managed to intervene on time to prevent any deaths. These victims of despair were hospitalized at the city's Ibn Rochd Hospital, four of whom are under intensive care.
This is the second suicide attempt by members of the National Independent Group of Unemployed. Twenty of its members aged between 25 and 41, attempted on Dec. 15 a collective self-burning while protesting in front of the Ministry of Health in Rabat.
Earlier, Azeddine Raouchi, one of the protesters who set himself on fire on Dec. 15, told Morocco Times “the group of unemployed is fed up with the government's false employment promises; that is why they have decided to burn themselves alive so that the government may pay more attention to us, and give us our simple right, which is a job”.
The crisis goes back to Oct. 2003 when the group of unemployed started having a series of talks with government officials to solve their problems. After several meetings with the government, dialogue reached a deadlock.
Last June, the group managed to have an agreement with the government which stated that half of the jobless members, which includes 48 jobless, be employed at the Ministry of Justice and the other half at the Ministry of Interior.
The Ministry of Justice kept its promises and employed 27 people. “However, the Ministry of Interior has ignored the other 20,” said Raouchi.
“Considering our miserable situation and the constant meetings without results, demanding only our rights, we have decided to burn ourselves,” he explained.
Members of the National Independent Group of the Unemployed had already warned the government that they will burn themselves on Dec. 15 if the officials did not consider their concerns.
“We were called for a meeting with the Wali but the discussion has reached a deadlock. So the next day we soaked our clothes in petrol while protesting. The police came in quickly and started hitting us and due to the police treatment and the psychological pressure on us, we have set ourselves on fire,” Raouchi said.
Raouchi told Morocco Times earlier that “the group will keep the series of suicide attempts until the government responds to their needs,” and that explains the second attempt.
Unemployment in Morocco was officially 10.8 % last year, Prime Minister Driss Jettou said in September, adding that among younger graduates the figure was 26.9 %.
Macroeconomic stability coupled with low inflation and relatively slow economic growth has characterized the Moroccan economy over the past several years. Overall, employment remains dependent on the agriculture sector, which is extremely vulnerable to inconsistent rainfa