Spanish authorities intentionally withheld information and misled German officials into believing the Basque separatists ETA were responsible for the Madrid bombings, according to Germany's federal criminal bureau.
Did Aznar (left) deceive European allies after the bombings?
In the days following the March 11 terror attacks that killed 201 people in Madrid, Spain's intelligence authorities kept a tight seal on evidence related to the investigation and misled allied intelligence services by providing false information pointing to involvement by the ETA, German public television reported Tuesday.
Citing a source in Germany's federal criminal bureau (BKA), the national ARD station said Spanish investigators initially told a liaison official for the German intelligence service that the explosive used in the train bombs was Titadyn, a material frequently employed by the ETA in the past. Later they said it was Goma 2 Eco dynamite, an explosive the Spanish authorities claimed was also used by ETA.
It wasn't until Monday, a day after Spain's conservative government suffered a surprising loss in the general election, that officials in Madrid admitted Goma 2 explosives were not a type previously used by the Basque separatists.
German officials were also not informed until after the election that the detonator found with the explosives was not a type used by ETA. Moreover, after the arrest of three Moroccans and two Indians on Saturday, Spanish authorities continued to tell the German source in Madrid that a connection to Islamic circles could not be confirmed.
An unnamed high-ranking security official told ARD that such blatantly false information from an allied intelligence service was "beyond his imagination." For the German authorities, whose task it was to evaluate their own country's risk in the days following the attacks, the evidence about the explosives was the main reason why the BKA assumed ETA was behind the bombings.
Outgoing Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar has been criticized from all sides for his attempts to pressure the media into blaming the Basque separatists rather than raising suspicion of Islamic extremists. Only after a videotape in Arabic was found claiming the blasts were the work of al Qaeda did media attention and public opinion steer away from the official line. At the same time, though, Aznar repeatedly pointed his finger at ETA and his interior ministry continued to cite evidence linking the attacks to the regional terror group.
"It was ETA. Do not doubt it for a moment," Aznar was quoted as telling Spanish journalists in personal phone calls urging them to print his statements.
Spain's interior minister Angel Acebes defended his government's information policy. "We always told the Spanish people the truth," he insisted.
The defeat of Aznar's party in the polls has been blamed to a large extent on the perception that the government manipulated information about the attacks to boost its chances in the election. Involvement by ETA in the bombings would have lent more support to the ruling party, which built its platform on high profile arrests of the Basque separatists.
German minister unhappy with Spain
German Interior Minister Otto Schily (photo) had already hinted on Sunday that Berlin was unhappy with Spain's lack of cooperation and withholding of information following the attacks.
German intelligence services only received the information from their Spanish colleagues after "some delay," the minister said, adding that "we obviously would have preferred to have been informed about certain details at an earlier stage than was the case."
The BKA also complained that Madrid restricted the sharing of information. In an internal document dated Sunday, the German criminal bureau wrote that Spanish authorities "are being very circumspect about concrete information in view of the imminent election. It would be desirable to have an open and trusting information policy."