TCS Daily

Andalusian Dogs of War

By Scott Norvell - March 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Anyone who thinks Spain was targeted last week only because of its support of the U.S.-led war on terror is sorely in need of a history lesson. And if they believe that by pulling its troops out of Iraq Spain will be safer, they are delusional.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's political courage surely made it a more attractive target, but Osama Bin Laden and his ilk have coveted Spain since long before the Iraq war, long before 9/11 even. For about 600 years, in fact.

To Al-Qaeda and its minions, the Iberian peninsula will forever be known as Al-Andalus, the epicenter of Islamic high culture and the zenith of Islam's global empire. It was a paradise they lost to the Christians in the late 1400s, and they will never forget it.

In a broadcast made public just after 9/11, Bin Laden referred to Al-Andalus and spoke of "old accounts" that remain to be settled. He clearly believes Spain was unfairly wrested from its Muslim rulers and remains prisoner to the Christian infidels to this day. "Our goal," he told Al-Jazeera in 1998, "is to liberate the lands of Islam from unbelief."

A letter that surfaced in the immediate aftermath of the Madrid attacks continued the Andalusian theme. Penned by the so-called Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, it made reference to those same "old accounts with Spain."

So the grudge is an old one. The goal is to retake Spain, and no amount of capitulation in Iraq or appeasement of radical Islam will assuage him.

What may be worrisomely new about the Spanish attacks is the breed of footsoldiers who carried them out. If the Moroccans currently being fingered prove responsible, then Bin Laden has harnessed the anger of Muslims in North Africa even more than we had realized.

French investigators said they have found direct links between one of the prime suspects, Jamal Zougam, and Mohamed Fizazi, the spiritual leader of a group that dubs itself Salafia Jihadi. Salafia Jihadi was blamed for last year's bombings in Casablanca, and now appears to have moved onto the continent.

Nearby Algeria has been fertile ground for Al Qaeda for years, supplying the nit that attempted to blow up LAX during the millennium and a whole slue of what European intelligence officials call "neo-Afghans" because they trained under the Taliban and are now laying dormant in cells throughout Europe.

Four months ago, one of those shadowy groups in Algeria, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, for the first time openly proclaimed its allegiance with Al-Qaeda.

The common thread here is Salafism, which ties these North African groups together and to Bin Laden. A variant of the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, it holds that -- contrary to most other branches of Islam -- it's okay to attack fellow Muslims who slip out of ideological lockstep and to go after Muslim leaders who reject the Sharia.

And it is Salafism that helps fuel the animosity toward Spain. The Salafis' is a war against anyone who has dared to progress intellectually since the days of the Prophet. Theirs' is a war that will not end until Islam has conquered the globe.

The U.S. military has already sensed this growing threat on Europe's southern border and appears to be acting.

In a meeting with African journalists last month, the deputy commander of the European Command, Gen. Charles Wald, said Al-Qaeda has a keen interest in North Africa and the U.S. "must get ahead of it."

U.S. counter-terrorism assets and Special Operations forces reportedly have begun fanning out across the Sahara and North Africa in recent months, and a meeting of defense chiefs from across the region is scheduled for March 22 in Stuttgart, Germany.

Wald once described the war against terrorists as being like a balloon. You squeeze one part, he said, and they just flow into another. We squeezed Afghanistan, and then Iraq -- now maybe it's time to start squeezing in North Africa.

Unless, that is, that might scare the Spanish as well.

Scott Norvell is London Bureau Chief of Fox News. He recently wrote for TCS about "More Guns, Less Beeb?"


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