At least three suspects in Madrid’s March 11 railway bombings blew themselves up as police commandos closed in on their apartment in a suburb of the Spanish capital yesterday evening, according to the top non-local story in the Los Angeles Times. The blast also killed one police officer and injured 11 others. Like the LAT, the Washington Post fronts a large, above-the-fold photo of the floodlit aftermath of the explosion, but the paper leads instead with a scoop on Brazil’s refusal to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to examine equipment in a new uranium-enrichment plant it is building near Rio de Janeiro. The New York Times fronts the Spanish explosion and leads instead with a long investigation of why it has taken so long to reopen the Statue of Liberty. The paper places blame largely on the foundation charged with the fund raising, arguing that it “showed more interest in preserving its considerable assets than in supporting the statue, even in the midst of a crisis.”
Spain’s interior minister said the suspects who set off and died in yesterday’s massive blast were, as the NYT translates, “some of the presumed authors” of the March 11 rail attacks, which are thought to have been organized by the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an al-Qaida ally. There is no word on whether the group’s alleged leader—a Tunisian, actually—was among those killed yesterday.
“There are three that could have blown themselves up, but the possibility of more is not ruled out,” Spain’s interior minister said of the suspects during a late-night press conference, according to the WP. The LAT hints—and Spain’s El País headlines—that that four bodies of suspected terrorists were eventually found. El Mundo explains that the fourth, possibly a woman’s, was discovered later in a nearby community fountain, wearing a belt of unexploded bombs.
The NYT’s story paints the raid that led to the explosion as a change in Spanish tactics after weeks of quiet police work. But, according to today’s Spanish papers, which understandably run more detailed accounts, the large-scale raid was unintentional. Apparently, plainclothes police arrived two hours before the blast, but were spotted by the terrorists, who, as the U.S. papers note, chanted in Arabic and fired at them from the windows. It was then that police summoned their colleagues, sent in helicopters, and cordoned off the neighborhood.
(The Post and the NYT both note that Spain has already arrested a number of suspects in its investigation of the Madrid bombings, but the papers can’t agree on a figure: The Times says 24, but the Post reports only 15.)
Primping for Condoleezza Rice’s big date on Thursday with the 9/11 commission (four members of which are hitting the talk shows this morning), the WP and NYT face off with dueling, research-heavy off-leads on the debate over the White House’s handling of the war on terror. The WP digs into meat of administration critic Richard Clarke’s book and 9/11 testimony and generally corroborates his complaints. The Times—under a large photo of President Bush hangin’ tough at his Texas ranch in August of 2001—runs an extensive, largely mixed, review of the White House’s counterterror activities that summer. Nothing particularly juicy: The administration’s efforts “leveled off” after the beginning of July, for example, and, in early September, Donald Rumsfeld urged Bush to veto a measure shifting missile-defense funds to counterterrorism.
And there’s plenty of Rice to go around: The NYT’s Week in Review runs a piece saying Bush’s fortunes are inextricably tied to her upcoming performance before the commission because the two share “a closer relationship than almost any other president and his national security adviser.” And the Op-Ed page delivers yet another order of Rice, with two lists of tough questions for the commission to ask her.
The NYT’s brief “Names of the Dead” feature notes inside that the Pentagon announced on Friday the 600th fatality among U.S. service members since the beginning of the Iraq war. (CNN reports two Marine deaths this weekend for a complete tally of 605.) Meanwhile, reports inside the WP and LAT describe the continued targeting of Iraqi security officials that has claimed 350 police officers in the last year and three since Friday—including two local police chiefs who were gunned down in daylight drive-bys.
The WP goes inside with “senior intelligence officials at the CIA and State Department” who say that the Iraq war has accelerated the spread of Osama Bin Laden’s anti-American ideology, and has turned the Iraqi insurgency into a training ground for terror groups with international aspirations. One unnamed intelligence analyst told the Post that the war on terror after the invasion of Iraq “may transition from defeating a group to fighting a movement.”
According to the Post’s lead, Brazil insists it is not pursuing nuclear weapons and the enrichment plant it is building belongs to a program that legally produces low-grade uranium for reactor use. Nevertheless, the country has erected walls around the plant and has covered equipment to shield it from inspectors’ view, saying the technology is proprietary. The IAEA worries that the refusal to allow inspectors could set a precedent for countries like Iran. According to the Post, the agency also wants to find out whether Brazil has purchased technology from the proliferation ring headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
In other Brazil news, the NYT reports inside that the country’s left-wing government is increasingly paralyzed by a corruption scandal that involves a presidential aide videotaped apparently shaking down an illegal gambling kingpin for hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.
Bordering on the ridiculous … The NYT stuffs news that the U.S.-Canadian border is in danger of literally disappearing. The small bi-national agency charged with maintaining the border—essentially a 20-foot-wide cleared path extending though 5,525 miles of forests and prairies—is so underfunded that it can’t keep up with maintenance. According to the paper, “parts of the border are becoming overgrown by trees and brush to the point that the border’s location could be lost.”