an article published Tuesday the 16th, the editor of El
Periódico, a Barcelona daily, revealed how Prime
Minister José María Aznar asked for his help in
attributing to the Basque group E.T.A. the
responsibility for the bomb attacks of the 11th. Due to
the importance of this article, Progreso Weekly has
translated it and brings it to you in its entirety.
Two calls from La
By Antonio Franco
Editor of El
Because José María Aznar has
disclosed that last Thursday, the day of the attacks, he
personally phoned several directors of news media in
Madrid and Barcelona, and mindful of the obligations of
transparency, I wish to tell our readers the content of
the two conversations he had with me.
first call came at noon. That was the time of the greatest
tension after the slaughter, because it was expected
that the number of victims would grow and EL PERIODICO
was preparing a special edition that would hit the
streets that afternoon.
am interested in giving this explanation because that
special edition was one of several publications that
attributed to E.T.A. the authorship of the attacks
without any ambiguity, on their front pages. Our readers
have the right to know that it was based on what José
María Aznar told me verbatim, as president of government
[prime minister], that morning.
was E.T.A.; don't you have the least doubt,” the
president stressed, before giving me a brief explanation
of what he could tell me about the investigation, the
evidence and the background.
There is an additional bit of data. That call from La
Moncloa [Government House] came shortly after I said, on
Radio Nacional, that we at EL PERIODICO wondered whether
the attacks were made by E.T.A. or Al Qaeda. The radio
station had phoned to ask me for the headline of the
special edition our newspaper was preparing. When I said
that we were weighing the two possibilities, the talk-show hosts
who phoned me said – on the air – they were surprised
that I didn't know that E.T.A. was the culprit and that
the possibility that the authors were Islamic terrorists
had been totally ruled out. I insist: shortly after I
said that, I received a call from Aznar.
was then, convinced that the [prime minister] of my
country, in the exercise of his office, would be incapable
of giving me assurances on a topic if he wasn't sure
about it, that I decided on the headline: “March 11 was
any case, EL PERIODICO fulfilled its obligation to
publish all the information it had at hand. In that same
special edition, put together at noon, on the inside
pages, we placed more qualified headlines: “The
government accuses E.T.A. and brands as ‘miserable’ the
rumor that the authors might be Islamics.” Also on those
pages, in a news exclusive, we said the police had found
a white van from which three hooded persons emerged and
went into the Alcalá de Henares train station; [we said]
the vehicle had been stolen in the Madrid neighborhood
of Tetuán, where many Muslim immigrants live, and said
the police kept open the possibility that Islamic
terrorists might be the culprits.
Late that afternoon, as we in EL PERIODICO's newsroom
prepared the following day's edition, and right after
Minister [of the Interior] Angel Acebes had made a
nervous appearance on TV to say again that E.T.A. was
the culprit but that other paths of investigation could
not be ruled out (although he never called Al Qaeda by
its name), I received another phone call from La Moncloa.
that time, Aznar apologized for not telling me earlier
about Acebes’ [TV] appearance and told me there was
another set of clues that – he said – naturally would
have to be investigated. But he also said cordially that
there should be no question in my mind: E.T.A. was the
author, he assured me.
With the information I had obtained from my own staff,
our front page the following day, Friday, gave priority
to the news that “Al Qaeda claims responsibility in
London for the attacks,” and “Islamics link the act with
Iraq,” over a third line that said: “Aznar maintains
that E.T.A. is the author of the attacks.”
was published that way, although I still clung to the
notion that a [prime minister] could not afford to make
a mistake on such an issue when talking to a newspaper
editor, and despite the fact that I already was thinking
that the international ridicule – and the damage –
inflicted on Spain would be dramatic if what the head of
government said about the E.T.A. was not true.
that time, however, the entire international press was
considering Al Qaeda to be the chief suspect in the
attacks and many countries already were applying
security measures that they would not have implemented
if they believed that E.T.A. was the culprit.
Here, the citizens of Spain already considered the
attitude of the Popular Party government on the subject
to be suspicious. Of all the people, only Aznar and
Acebes said they had no doubt about what we now know to
be – at the very least – an error.