Rajoy Confusion on Afghan Terror Attack Raises Hackles in Spainby and
Two policemen killed as prime minister said staff were `fine'
Spain's 2004 election turned on attack three days before poll
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conflicting accounts of an attack on the Spanish embassy in Kabul that killed two policemen evoked memories of the pre-election terrorist attack of 2004.
Speaking before a campaign rally on Friday night, Rajoy, 60, said that one injured policeman wasn’t in a serious condition and the rest of the embassy staff were fine since the attack hadn’t been directed against Spain. At that point, the raid on a guest house belonging to the embassy was still ongoing, according to the Afghan police’s subsequent account.
A few minutes later during the televised speech Rajoy changed his account, saying that the officer had died. Seven hours afterward the Interior Ministry said that a second policeman had also been killed while the police union said the Spanish mission had been the target, citing accounts of officers at the scene.
Government reporting of terrorists attacks is a sensitive issue in Spain, and for Rajoy, who faces voters in balloting Dec. 20. The premier lost the 2004 election after leading in the final polls when his government tried to blame Basque terror group ETA for the March 11 Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people three days before the vote. Radicals linked to al-Qaeda were subsequently convicted of the attacks. Then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar led Spain into the Iraq war the previous year, making the country a target.
The most probable explanation for the confusion over the latest attack is that both the terrorists and the Afghan police referred to a guest house as the target of the attack, a press officer for the prime minister said by phone Sunday. That information was corrected as further details emerged and the other political parties were informed.
Eldiario.es, an online newspaper that’s criticized Rajoy on a range of issues, called his Friday comments “a shameful attempt to hide the truth.”
“Don’t lie to us!” Pilar Requena, a professor of international relations at Madrid’s Complutense University who also works for Spain’s public television broadcaster, said on her Twitter feed. “This was clearly an attack on the embassy in Kabul. Our people there deserve that the truth be told.”
Amid mounting criticism, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz met Saturday with officials from the other main political parties including Podemos, Ciudadanos and the Socialists. They avoided criticizing the government in a news conference after the meeting and aren’t making the episode a campaign issue. Rajoy’s office released a statement on Saturday with the corrected information, adding that the government is investigating the perpetrators of the attack and their intended targets.
Taliban fighters killed six policemen and a civilian during a nine-hour siege of the guest house that ended early Saturday morning, according to Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahed. Militants entered the property by targeting a gate with vehicle-laden explosives and Afghan forces began engaging with them.
All three of the heavily armed attackers were killed and about 50 people including some foreigners were helped to safety, he said. Two of the slain were Spanish police officers and the other victims were Afghans, according to an online statement posted on Spain’s Interior Ministry website. Nine Afghan civilians were injured in the incident, Mujahed said.
The attack occurred in the Sherpur area, where foreign embassies, homes of high-ranking Afghan politicians and several foreign guesthouses are located. All Spanish embassy staff were evacuated after the attack, according to the Interior Ministry.