Al Qaeda's Designs on Europe

So which is it, Osama bin Laden: Does Al Qaeda want to defeat the whole West?

Or just the United States and its closest antiterrorism allies in Europe?

Those questions hang over a worried Europe as it sorts out Thursday's blasts in Madrid as well as Sunday's election that saw the defeat of a Spanish government strongly tied to President Bush's war on Iraq and terror.

It's not fully clear yet whether Al Qaeda was behind the train bombings that killed over 200, a historic event now known as "M11" (for March 11), or "11M" in Europe. But the group had targeted Spain for its support of the Iraq war. And enough clues are coming out to force European leaders to huddle for a rethink of their antiterrorism strategies - and whether to distance theirs from Mr. Bush's.

After M11 and the defeat of Spain's Popular Party, political leaders in Europe may think twice about putting their countries at greater risk of an attack by Al Qaeda by closely aligning with Bush. And they may not want to defy domestic opinion by backing Bush - as Britain's Tony Blair and Spain's José María Aznar did - and risk an election defeat. The new Socialist leader of Spain has already said he may withdraw his country's 1,300 troops from Iraq.

The trans-Atlantic political rift is already wide enough, however, without Europe and the US now widening it further by reacting to the Madrid blast in very different ways.

The two sides are near to an agreement on a role for the United Nations in postoccupation Iraq. And they've largely put aside lingering rancor over the war. On many fronts - starting with the 2001 war in Afghanistan and in the sharing of intelligence on terrorists - Europe and the US have far more to gain in cooperating against Al Qaeda than in quarreling.

Most of all, Europe and the US can't let Al Qaeda divide and conquer - if that's what it's attempting. No European leader should dare risk the idea that his or her country can be made immune to such a fanatical terrorist group. If you aren't with them, then Al Qaeda sees you as an enemy.

Since the Iraq war, Bush has learned he needs more allies in his campaign. And now after M11, Europe realizes it must do more at home and abroad. Together, they can beat Al Qaeda, no matter what its designs on Europe.

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