IMAGE: BOMBED OUT APARTMENT IN LEGANES, SPAIN
Pedro Armestre  /  AFP - Getty Images
An explosion in front of a building in the Madrid suburb of Leganes on Saturday killed a special operations agent and five Madrid bombing suspects.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/5/2004 10:01:12 AM ET 2004-04-05T14:01:12

An Islamic group that claims responsibility for the Madrid bombings says it will turn Spain “into an inferno” unless the country halts its support for the United States and withdraws its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The threat came in a letter faxed to the Spanish daily newspaper ABC over the weekend, the paper said Monday. ABC said the letter was handwritten in Arabic and signed “Abu Dujana Al Afgani, Ansar Group, al-Qaida in Europe.”

The same person claimed responsibility for the March 11 bombings in a videotape found outside a Madrid mosque two days after the attacks.

The fax came just hours before five terror suspects blew themselves up in an apartment in Leganes, south of Madrid, to avoid police capture.

Two alleged ringleaders believed among dead
The government believes the suicide blast killed three of the alleged ringleaders of last month’s Madrid train bombings, including Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, also known as “the Tunisian.”

"The core of the group that carried out the attacks is either arrested or dead in yesterday's collective suicide, including the head of the operative commando," Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a news conference.

Two or three suspects may have escaped before the blast, which also killed a special forces officer and wounded 15 other policeman.

The letter gave Spain until Sunday, April 4, to fulfill its demands of ending support for the United States and withdrawing troops from both countries.

“If these demands are not met, we will declare war on you and ... convert your country into an inferno and your blood will flow like rivers,” the letter said.

The group said it had showed its force with the “blessed attacks of March 11” and the planting of a bomb along the high-speed railway line linking Madrid and the Seville last week, which did not explode.

Letter deemed ‘fairly credible’
ABC cited unidentified sources in Spain’s National Intelligence Center as saying the letter’s authenticity appeared “fairly credible.” It said the language used in the letter was similar to that used in the video.

The intelligence agency has linked the Ansar group to Fakhet, the Tunisian killed in the suicide blast Saturday evening.

Ansar al-Islam is an Islamic extremist guerrilla group blamed for terrorist strikes in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco.

A respected French private investigator says Spanish police believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terror suspect with links to the Ansar group and al-Qaida, coordinated the Madrid attacks.

Authorities also have said they are focusing on the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which also has links to al-Qaida and is believed connected to Ansar al-Islam, blamed for last year's Casablanca bombings, which killed 45 people including 12 suicide bombers.

The railway bombings, which killed 191 persons and injured some 1,800, came three days before Spain’s general elections. Many saw the bombings as a reprisal for the Spanish government’s support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The opposition Socialist party, which had opposed the war along with most Spaniards, won the elections, in part due to anger over the attacks.

Deadline set for Iraq withdrawal
In one of its first statements, the party said it planned to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations took control of the situation there. The party later said it intended doubling its troop numbers in Afghanistan to 250 to show it was committed to fighting terrorism.

Judge Juan del Olmo, the investigating magistrate, had issued international arrest warrants for five Moroccans and one Tunisian in connection with the Madrid bombings. Three of those killed Saturday night, Fakhet, and Abdennabi Kounjaa and Jamal Ahmidan, both Moroccans, were among those under indictment.

Another 17 suspects are already in custody, including two arrested Saturday, according to a court official interviewed Monday by Reuters. Six have been charged with mass murder and nine with collaborating with or belonging to a terrorist organization. Eleven of the 15 charged are Moroccan.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Spanish suspects kill themselves

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