Arabs neutral over ETA accusation, Qaeda claim
CAIRO: The Arab world united on Friday in condemning the bombings in Madrid that killed at least 198 people and wounded more than 1,400, but refrained from passing judgement on who was responsible for the carnage.
While the blasts obviously made the front pages of Egypt’s Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuriya, all three of government-owned dailies gave the biggest play to Thursday’s visit by Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom. Reporting that Al-Qaeda had allegedly claimed responsibility in a statement to the London-based Al-Qods Al-Arabi newspaper, they stressed that the Spanish government continued to blame Basque separatist group ETA for the outrage.
“Spanish police say ETA is behind the attack; the Al-Qods daily claims it was Al-Qaeda,” Cairo daily Al-Messa headlined its front page. Late Thursday, most analysts in Egypt were unwilling to say who might have orchestrated the bombings, given that there was still little information on how the blasts were carried out.
On Friday, a day of rest for Muslims, no one was immediately available for comment as more details began to filter through. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a message of condolences to Spanish King Juan Carlos I in which he vigorously condemned “all forms of violence and terrorism”.
Late Thursday, Arab League chief Amr Mussa said he was “shocked” by “terrorist acts aimed at killing civilians,” sending his condolences to the families of the victims. Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi telephoned Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to offer his condolences and condemn the bombings.
In Lebanon, newspaper headlines shrieked of the carnage, but also stopped short of ruling whether Al-Qaeda or ETA were responsible. “Spain’s September 11: the Basques or Al-Qaeda?” ran the headline of the mass-selling An-Nahar.
In London, the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat also wrote of “Spain’s September 11”. It labelled the Madrid bombings the “worst catastrophe” since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In Europe, it was the worst since the 1988 bombing of an airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killed 270 people.
“Terrorism strikes Madrid” wrote the Al-Mostaqbal newspaper, pointing out ETA has been blamed by the Spanish government, despite a statement attributed to Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Spain is in a state of shock after the worst terrorist act in the history of Europe,” wrote the As-Safir newspaper, saying “ETA is the prime suspect”.
Late Thursday, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri strongly denounced the attacks and called for drastic measures to eradicate such “criminal acts”. “The statements of denunciation and condemnation are not enough to thwart these criminal acts, which go against all moral and religious values,” he said in a statement.
Hariri called on countries worldwide “to act to eradicate this phenomenon which struck, without distinction, many areas and which spread panic and killed many innocent” people. In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad condemned as “criminal and terrorist acts”. —AFP