April 12, 1985: Multiple terrorist groups claim attack on Madrid restaurant

On this day in 1985 a bomb exploded at at El Descanso-La Casa de las Costillas, a popular restaurant in Madrid, bringing the three-story building down on about 200 diners and employees.

MADRID, SPAIN – Criminals aren’t usually in a hurry to confess their crimes to police. Terrorists are another matter.

Wouldn’t it be great if after a crime was committed, the criminal responsible called the local police station to confess? It would likely make the difficult jobs of those who work in law and order much easier.

However, what would happen if multiple people confessed to the same crime? Would an excess of suspects willing to sign a confession with no clear information on which one actually did it help or hinder a case?

I’m not sure what the answer is but I’m pretty sure this is not a problem police officers face on a regular basis.

Unlike run-of-the-mill criminals, terrorist organizations are often more than happy to claim attacks as having been perpetrated by one of their own; even if they had nothing to do with it at all.

But what happens when a whole host of groups claim the same attack? Do you just choose one to blame?

On this day in 1985

A bomb exploded at El Descanso-La Casa de las Costillas, a popular restaurant in Madrid, bringing the three-story building down on about 200 diners and employees. The explosion and subsequent collapse of the structure killed 18 people and wounded another 82, including 11 Americans who worked at the nearby Torrejón Air Base. It is unclear if the Americans were the targets though many of the servicemen and women were known to frequent the restaurant.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, five different groups claimed responsibility: ETA, the First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO), Unity of the Abu Zeinab Martyrs, Wa’d (a front for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Special Commend or PFLP-SC) and the Islamic Jihad Organization.

After much deliberation, Spanish authorities decided the most credible claim was that of the Islamic Jihad Organization. A letter sent out two weeks after the attack seemed to support their suspicions:

Islam is ready. Spain and Italy are the first targets. The attack in Madrid has been the beginning of the Islamic holy war. Death to the United States. The apostles of death are ready. to resume the holy war

Letter sent by Islamic Jihad Organization

If authorities are correct, this would be the first attack by Islamist terrorists in Spain against Spaniards and the third most deadly. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

This may answer the question posed above – perhaps having too many suspects willing to confess is not a good thing after all.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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