Looking back to 1985: Spain’s first Islamist attack

Looking back to 1985: Spain’s first Islamist attack

MUSTAFA SETMARIAN: Accompanying Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan Photo credit: US Attorney General

TWO THOUSAND editions ago, El Descanso, a restaurant nor far from the US airbase in Torrejon de Ardoz (Madrid) was in the news.

It was devastated by an explosion shortly before 10.30pm on April 12, killing 18 people and injuring 82.  As firemen worked through the night to remove the dead and injured from the wreckage, they initially assumed that there had been a gas explosion.

Almost immediately, the Basque terrorist group ETA, then lethally active, took responsibility, a claim that investigators soon dismissed, along with theories that the explosion was the work of the Grapo anarchists or other groups opposed to Spain’s Nato membership.

Instead, the El Descanso bombing was Spain’s first jihadist attack.

The Interior Ministry, then headed by Jose Barrionuevo, focused on claims sent from Beirut (Lebanon) 48 hours after the bombing and distributed by the Kuwait News Agency there.

They came from the radical group Yihad Islamica and Waad, which means “promise” and was used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Special Commandos (PFLP-CE), a Palestine Liberation Organisation (OLP) splinter group.

Spanish nvestigators inclined towards Yihad Islamica once a warning was made public two weeks after the El Decanso bomb.

“Islam is prepared.  Spain and Italy are the first objectives.  The Madrid attack was the start of the holy Islamic war.  Death to the United States.  The apostles of death are prepared to restart the holy war,” it declared.

El Descanso was obviously singled out owing to its proximity to the Torrejon base as it was much-visited by military personnel and there were 18 Americans amongst the 82 people who were injured.

The bombing also came at a time when Spain was about to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and the US president Ronald was due to visit the country

The perpetrators were never found although subsequent events suggested that the attack was the work by Mustafa Setmarian.  A Syrian married to a Spanish woman, with whom he had two children with Spanish nationality, he went on to became one of Al Qaeda’s most important members and ideologues.

Witnesses later told the ABC newspaper that shortly before the explosion, a young man entered El Descanso and looked as though he was waiting for a table.

A few minutes later they saw him go to the toilets carrying a sports bag, realising in retrospect that it probably contained the bomb which he activated and left under the bar before leaving.

In 1987 the El Descanso case was shelved until a protected witness saw and recognised a photo of Setmarian in the Press following the March 11 attacks on Madrid commuter trains in 2004 which killed 193 people and injured 2,050.  He identified the redheaded Syrian – who by then was known to have links to Al Qaeda and its Spanish leader Abu Dahdah – as the author of the 1985 bombing.  The man in the photo was responsible for the El Descanso explosion, the witness insisted.

The National High Court judge Ismael Moreno reopened the El Descanso investigation and continued the search for Setmarian who by then had also been linked to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.  Setmarian’s name was heard again during the investigation into the July 7 London bombings in 2005 when 56 people lost their lives and 785 were wounded, some with life-changing injuries.

The National High Court issued an international arrest order for Setmarian who was eventually detained in Quetta on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in November 2005.

Nothing has been heard of him since then and it is likely that he was taken to a US secret prison on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, or possibly Syria.

The National High Court asked the American authorities for information regarding Setmarian’s whereabouts in 2009 but at the end of the year, they eventually replied that they had no information about him or knew where he was.

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com.