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NATO allies were warned of an al-Qaida offensive against Spain as part of the movement’s effort to force European states to withdraw military support from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, reports Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service.

As early as December 2003, al-Qaida-aligned operatives posted a communiqu? on the Internet spelling out the organization’s strategy to force NATO allies to abandon the United States in Iraq. The strategy envisioned a wounded Spain as being the first to withdraw its troops from Iraq in a move that would be followed by other European Union states.

A 50-page report, published by the al-Qaida-aligned Information Center for the Support of the Iraqi People, detailed a strategy by Islamic insurgency groups in North Africa to achieve a Western military withdrawal from Iraq. The report, which appeared on al-Qaida-related websites, devoted eight pages to the role of Spain and its participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

The report disputed assertions by Spanish officials that they had no warning of an al-Qaida-related plot for a massive attack against Spain.

Authorities have said that the only alerts stemmed from the Basque separatist group, ETA.

On March 11, about 200 people were killed in a series of bombings on commuter trains in Madrid. So far, 35 Islamic insurgency suspects, most of them from Morocco, have been detained. Over the weekend, an Egyptian and a Saudi also were arrested.

Entitled “Iraqi Jihad, Hopes and Risks: Analysis of the Reality and Visions for the Future, and Actual Steps in the Path of the Blessed Holy War,” the report analyzes Spain’s domestic and international posture.

The analysis included a discussion of Spanish politics, then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and the March 14 parliamentary elections.

“We say that in order to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq, the resistance should hit with painful attacks against its forces,” the report said. “This will be accompanied by an information campaign, which would present the reality of the situation inside Iraq. It is a must to exploit the coming general elections in Spain in March 2004.”

The report said Spain could not tolerate more than three attacks before deciding to withdraw from Iraq. Three days after the Madrid train bombings, Aznar was defeated in elections and a new socialist government pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq.

“Lastly, we are certain that the withdrawal of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would serve as a huge pressure on the British presence [in Iraq], which Tony Blair would not be able to overcome,” the report said.

“Hence, the domino tiles would fall quickly. Yet, the basic problem of how to drop the first tile is still there.”

Western intelligence sources said the report was impressive in its understanding of Spanish politics. They said Spain became a focus in al-Qaida’s strategy to maintain a presence in Europe and expel the U.S. military from Iraq.

“For the last year, jihadist writings about Spain have focused on the outgoing Spanish government’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, particularly among Moroccan Islamists who felt the brunt of Spanish judge Garzon Belthazar’s investigative zeal,” said a study by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation,

Scott Atran, the author, has organized a NATO working group on suicide attacks. He also is research director at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

The recent strikes in Madrid could mark the emergence of new Islamic insurgency groups inspired rather than directed by al-Qaida, intelligence sources said. Western intelligence agencies, including the CIA, believe Osama Bin Laden has so far placed few resources into an insurgency campaign in Europe.

The new al-Qaida satellites are said to include Ansar al-Islam and a cell headed by Abu Mussib al-Zarqawi, regarded as the most lethal Islamic insurgent in Iraq. In a demonstration of al-Qaida recruitment, targeting and operation techniques, these two groups were said to have planned and carried out attacks in Istanbul in November 2003.

“Empowered with al-Qaida’s name, regional groups are now better able to coordinate among themselves and to strike out on their own,” Atran said.

“Finally, they have learned the value of suicide attacks as perhaps the most cost effective means of modern irregular warfare for maximizing impact over the widest horizon.”

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