Madrid Train Bombing Anniversary Statement

(New York, N.Y.) – On the anniversary of the Madrid train bombings of 2004, which killed 193 people and injured more than 2,000 others, Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler has warned that threat posed by al-Qaeda is growing significantly once again.

Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last August, Dr. Schindler points out that al-Qaeda now has a secure base for its operations for the first time in more than 20 years. Under the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is now able to reorganize its operations in a manner that it was not able to previously. Its symbiotic relationship with the Taliban via the Haqqani Network—the powerful Taliban faction in charge of several key security ministries in Afghanistan, including the Ministry of the Interior—means that al-Qaeda currently has little to fear inside Afghanistan.

Therefore, the threat of attacks by al-Qaeda in Europe and North America is rising continuously. In a new video statement released on February 15, 2022, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri spoke again of the global fight of al-Qaeda against the West, demonstrating that al-Qaeda’s ambitions for international terrorism have not diminished.

CEP Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler said:

“On the eighteenth anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, the threat posed by al-Qaeda is again rising significantly.

“Last August, decades dedicated to democracy and counterterror were set back in days, following western leaders’ decision to rapidly withdraw from Afghanistan. Since then, the Taliban have truly seized their moment and recreated many aspects of their previous regime in Afghanistan. One of the most dangerous aspects of this is their continuing willingness to harbor and protect not only the top al-Qaeda global leadership but also a range of al-Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan.

“Eighteen years after one of the most tragic and notorious Islamist terrorist attacks on European soil in living memory, a reenergized and strengthened of al-Qaeda is certainly on the horizon. With the assistance of the Haqqani Network, a powerful faction of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has significantly reinvested in Afghanistan as a safe haven. For the past seven months, they have been developing their base of operations in the country, growing both in numbers and military prowess, following the release of some 5,000 prisoners, many of them seasoned jihadists, from Pul-i-Charkhi Prison at the Bagram Airfield.

“The threat of al-Qaeda has grown not just in Afghanistan but across the Greater Middle East. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based largely in Yemen, heralded the Taliban’s takeover as the beginning of a pivotal transformation worldwide. While in North Africa, Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, a coalition of al-Qaeda affiliates in the region, celebrated the rapid sweep of Taliban military victories as proof that violent jihadist struggle is the only way to achieve a global caliphate. Each of these al-Qaeda affiliates has the capacity and capability to threaten Spanish and European interests and security.

“Seven months on from the Taliban’s takeover, al-Qaeda’s return to operational capacity and deadly intentions for Europe is reflected in a new video by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global leader of al-Qaeda, released in February 2022. In this video, he calls for Muslims worldwide to unite in their fight against the West and its allies, taking the situation of Afghanistan as an example of this global struggle. This signals to the members and sympathizers of the global network of al-Qaeda that its ambitions for terror attacks have not diminished but are reenergized.

“Eighteen years after the Madrid train bombing, we are unfortunately faced with a strengthened threat by al-Qaeda that we will only be able to ignore at our own peril.”

To read CEP’s resource Spain: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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