Though a hoax, Madrid train bomb threat deepens jitters about 'lone wolf' attacks

Police have arrested a suspect, whose threat forced the emergency evacuation of a commuter train between stations. 

Susana Vera/Reuters
Passengers wait for their trains after train activity resumed at Madrid's Atocha train station January 2, 2015. Madrid's Atocha main train station, the scene of a 2004 bomb attack which killed nearly 200 people, was evacuated on Friday after a bomb warning that turned out to be false.

Spanish officials say a suicide bomb threat at Madrid's Atocha train station, site of the March 2004 bombing that left almost 200 people dead, is false, and that a suspect has been taken into custody.

The suspect, identified by newspaper El Pais (in Spanish) as Jamal H, a man of North African and Spanish origin, reportedly threatened to blow himself up on a commuter rail train approaching the Atocha station. The suspect had left a backpack on the train and warned passengers that an explosion was imminent. Spanish police said that the warnings prompted a passenger to pull the emergency brake before it reached the station, and the train was evacuated.

No explosives were found in the suspect's possession, and police told El Pais that he has no known ties to terrorist groups. He is currently being held for psychiatric observation.

But the threat comes amid heightened tensions in the West amid a spate of attacks of "lone-wolf terrorism," launched by unbalanced individuals claiming to be inspired by tensions in the Middle East and fighting in Syria. France saw three instances in late December of attacks by individuals that injured members of the public. And in Australia, a man with a history of criminal activity held more than a dozen people hostage in a Sydney cafe before police stormed the site. The man and two of his hostages were killed.

Europe is also highly concerned about the possibility of its citizens traveling to fight in Syria, becoming radicalized, and then returning home and pursuing similar tactics. As of late last year, some 95 Spaniards were estimated to be involved in the fighting in Syria, The Washington Post reports.

Although there is no immediately apparent tie between today's incident and Islamic terrorism, the site itself, Atocha station, has particular resonance for Spaniards that evokes such a connection. The station was the site of Spain's deadliest terrorist attack in the modern era, when, on Mar. 11, 2004, a series of 10 backpack bombs was detonated, killing nearly 200 people and injuring scores more. Although initial suspicion fell upon the Basque separatist group ETA, investigations revealed the perpetrators to be Islamic militants.

The 2004 bombings had a dramatic effect on the country, coming just days before Spain's general election. The conservative – and hard-on-terrorism – Popular Party had been expected to win the elections handily. But the attack galvanized support for the Socialists, who scored an upset win on the back of their campaign against Spanish involvement in the Iraq war, which many saw as a reason Spain was targeted by terrorists. The new Socialist government quickly affirmed its intent to withdraw from the conflict, depriving the US of one of its staunchest allies in the war.

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