The mystery of the first jihadist attack in Spain


Author/ Raquel G. Solís

The authorship of the first jihadist attack in the history of Spain remains an unsolved mystery and still has more questions than answers.

It was not on four suburban trains, at rush hour, at Atocha Station on 11 March 2004, but in the mid-1980s at the restaurant "El Descanso" and left 18 dead and 82 wounded.

It has never been possible to determine who committed that attack despite the fact that it was claimed by four terrorist groups.

It happened in 1985, 19 years earlier, on 12 April at about half past ten at night, near the Torrejón de Ardoz military base. Eighteen people died and 82 were injured. Despite the fact that in a few days it will be 39 years ago, its authorship is still unknown.

The number of victims was the only thing that was clear: 18 Spanish nationals died and 82 were injured, 14 of whom were Americans. The fact that the restaurant was frequented by US military personnel from the US base in Torrejón de Ardoz suggested that the target was not Spaniards but Americans. However, the time at which the attack was perpetrated, around half past ten at night, did not make this hypothesis viable, as it was too late for American soldiers to be dining.

It was also unclear what type of explosive was detonated, from chlorotite, pentrite to trinitroluene. The only thing that was known for certain was that the bomb, weighing between 5 and 15 kilos, was in an abandoned sports bag under the bar of the restaurant, near the toilets.

Source: 30 years after the explosion that killed 18 people in the restaurant 'El Descanso' / RTVE

But the real mystery of the third biggest bombing in Spain's recent history, only surpassed by the M-11 with 190 dead and the Hipercor bombing with 21, is still who did it.

The hours passed and nobody recognised it, until the first claims began to be made. Among them was Islamic Jihad . It did so through an anonymous phone call to the Beirut branch of an international news agency. It said they would continue to carry out attacks until the last Israeli soldier left South Lebanon.

Moreover, the communiqué stated that it was in retaliation for their killings in Bir al- Abed, a Shiite neighbourhood in the city where a car bomb explosion had killed 92 people four days earlier. The Shiite fundamentalists directly accused Israel and the US of being behind the massacre.

The problem came because they were not the only ones to claim responsibility. Sugar envelopes were found with the word "Waad", a pledge, used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Special Commandos (PFLP-EC), a splinter of the PLO, to claim responsibility for their attacks. In fact, the first investigations pointed to Hamza Tirawi, a militant of this group.

Not only that, but he also claimed responsibility in a communiqué in which he said he regretted the death of Spaniards who were there accidentally, according to El Periódico. This hypothesis was finally discarded as no arrests were made.

ETA was also suspected. The reason was that the Basque terrorist group had declared itself to be anti-NATO, and it was precisely the proximity to the American base that had made them the first suspects, according to the press at the time. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that in those years Spain was going through the so-called "ETA's years of lead".

Even so, and following the hypothesis that the perpetrators were Spanish, the GRAPO was not ruled out. Someone with a distorted voice called an Antena 3 radio station claiming to be calling on behalf of this group. The caller regretted that the attack had not occurred at a quarter to nine in the morning, the scheduled time, when the place would have been full of Americans, according to the newspaper El País.

ABC front pages of the Madrid and Seville editions. 14th April 1985.

Curiously, in 2005, twenty years later, a survivor of the attack saw a photograph in the press of Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, an Al-Qaeda leader arrested that same year in Pakistan, and recognised him. He claims to have been suspicious of him from the beginning and says he saw him place a bag at the site of the explosion.

Initially, the police did not take him very seriously. But a review of the case file makes them realise that other witnesses point to a suspect with similar characteristics.

According to Interviú, some American military personnel who were there and who were subjected to hypnosis sessions to remember details that could shed light also point to him.

Following this lead, the case was reopened. Judge Baltasar Garzón issued an international arrest warrant for him, but his whereabouts are still unknown. Some sources believe he could be in Guantánamo and others in Syria, but nobody knows for sure.

What is known is that he is of Syrian origin. He has Spanish nationality after marrying a woman from Madrid with whom he had two children. He has been living in Spain for 12 years, without being arrested or considered a suspect in this attack.

The mystery of the first jihadist attack in Spain

Raquel G.Solís

Journalist in search of new projects. Defender of serious journalism based on data and not on opinions or statements.

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