Spain, a Steady Antiterror Ally

The terrorist bombing that killed over 170 people in Madrid Thursday was a huge tragedy for Spain, an event almost in scale for that country as Sept. 11 was for the US. Spaniards deserve as much empathy as Europe displayed to Americans over two years ago.

But the person most in need of support is Spain's outgoing prime minister, José Maria Aznar. He, and his ruling Popular Party, no doubt will take some political heat for being so tough on the two groups most likely behind Thursday's attacks: the Basque separatist group ETA, or some variant of Al Qaeda (or even both).

Mr. Aznar, during his eight years in office, has been an uncompromising leader in reducing ETA's small cadre of terrorists and support for the group. He's also defied France and Germany by strongly supporting President Bush's antiterrorist strategy, especially the war in Iraq.

Aznar knows terrorism firsthand. He barely survived an ETA car- bombing in 1995. But most Spaniards oppose his support of the Iraq war. Now with this bombing coming three days before a national election, in which his party's candidate was expected to win, Aznar's policy of steadfast opposition to terrorists needs some bucking up.

His government claims ETA was behind the blasts and, if true, then Spain will need even more support from its European partners and the US. Only after Sept. 11 did the European Union and the US declare ETA a terrorist organization. Some in Europe had sympathy for ETA's cause of creating a Basque state along the French-Spanish border, even if it's done through violence against civilians.

Spain cannot negotiate with ETA as long as it uses violence. Instead, Spain needs as much support in fighting ETA as Aznar gave to the Bush war on terror.

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