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Europe Takes New Look at Vulnerability Following Spain Terror Attack
Nick Simeone
VOA, Washington
15 Mar 2004, 21:34 UTC

Spain's incoming prime minister is promising to pull his country's troops out of Iraq if coalition forces there are not put under United Nations control by June 30. Last Thursday's terrorist bombings in Madrid continue to cause political fallout both within Spain and beyond, as much of Europe takes a new look at its vulnerability to a terrorist attack.

Many Spaniards believe last Thursday's terrorist attacks were the result of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's decision to take part in the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq.

And, as a consequence, the Aznar government has now become the first administration that backed the Iraq war to be voted out of office. George Parker, Brussels bureau chief for London's Financial Times newspaper, said "there's no doubt at all that the election result was turned on the terrorist attack which we now think to be the work of al-Qaida and that clearly was directly related to the Spanish support for the Americans and the war in Iraq.

With an overwhelming majority of Spaniards opposed to the war, incoming Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is vowing to pull all 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq, unless they are put under United Nations control, saying the occupation has gone poorly.

Meanwhile, Spanish authorities have arrested five suspects in connection with last Thursday's train bombings that left 200 people dead, and are examining evidence suggesting Middle Eastern terrorists could be to blame. Here in Washington, the Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson has already drawn some conclusions. "We're satisfied that there is some al-Qaida connection. The depth of that connection and the total responsibility is yet to be determined," he said.

Across Europe, governments are taking the threat seriously, an indication that they as well do not believe, as the Spanish initially did, that the attack was entirely the work of Basque terrorists.

The European Union will discuss the continent's vulnerability to terrorism during high-level talks Friday, while some experts, including British security consultant Glenmore Trenear-Harvey are warning that other U.S. allies could soon be targeted. "I would certainly expert before the end of 2004 a serious incident to take place on the UK mainland," he said.

The Bush administration says it does not consider the Spanish elections a setback for the war on terrorism. However, the loss for Prime Minister Aznar's party comes just as the White House planned to mark the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion with a series of events designed to showcase its successes.