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by Sergio Leone
Saturday, Mar. 13, 2004 at 3:53 AM
Spain used to be hit by a traditional car bombing terrorism dued to the separatist ETA group. The bombings that caused death to 198 poeple in Madrid would be more comparable to an Al Quaeda scale terror act. This is Spain's first state-sponsored terrorist action.
Madrid Counts its Dead
by Tito Drago
Three rush-hour rail blasts in Madrid Thursday left 198 dead and over 1,430 wounded, brutally cutting short the campaign for Sunday's general elections in Spain.
MADRID, Mar 12 (IPS) - Three rush-hour rail blasts in Madrid Thursday left 198 dead and at least 1,430 wounded, brutally cutting short the campaign for Sunday's general elections in Spain.
The trains, full of commuters heading for work and parents accompanying children to school, were arriving in Madrid from lower-income districts in the south of the capital.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks immediately. However, Interior Minister Angel Acebes initially told reporters that ''there is no doubt that the (Basque separatist) terrorist group ETA is responsible'' for the incidents.
Acebes pointed out that in the past, ETA had sometimes waited before taking responsibility for such attacks. He also said the incidents showed the group was becoming increasingly marginalized, and resorting to drastic measures as a result. ''This fits with the fact that ETA is weaker than ever,” he noted.
Although there was a virtual consensus in Spain that ETA was behind Thursday’s explosions, evidence has also emerged of possible involvement by a group that forms part of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
In a later press conference, Acebes said that a stolen van recovered in the town of Alcalá de Henares, the starting point of several of the trains carrying explosives, was found with detonators and an audiotape of verses from the Koran.
After the minister made his statements, a London-based Arabic newspaper -- Al-Quds Al-Arabí -- reported that it had received an e-mail signed by the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, claiming responsibility for the attacks.
Arnaldo Otegi, a spokesman for Batasuna, the outlawed political arm of ETA, was the first public figure in Spain to deny that the blasts were planned by the Basque separatist organisation. He claimed they were the work of the “Arab resistance'' in retaliation for the Aznar administration's support of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The governing Popular Party (PP), the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) -- the main opposition group -- and the United Left (IU) coalition have all announced the suspension of their campaigns for next Sunday's elections.
All parties -- with the exception of Batasuna -- as well as trade unions and human rights groups have called for demonstrations on Friday (Mar. 12) to condemn the terrorist act. The protests are to be held under the theme ''With the Victims, With the Constitution, for the Defeat of Terrorism”.
Interior Minister José María Michavila has also called on the public to remain calm, “because the state of law will not be cowed, and we will go after them, arrest and try them, and they will pay for their crimes in prison”. All of this, said Michavila, would occur “in a framework of respect for the law”.
One of the blasts took place at the Pozo de Tío Raimundo station. This terminus, located in a district that bears the same name, became famous in the last years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975) for its clandestine pro-democracy activities.
Another explosion occurred in the Santa Eugenia station, and the third at the central Madrid station of Atocha: a transport hub that links commuter trains and subway lines. Atocha is located just two kilometres from Puerta del Sol, the seat of government.
Amidst the chaos that followed the Atocha blast, IPS saw concerted efforts by the public to help wounded commuters. Local residents poured out of their homes with blankets, pillows and water to provide assistance to the wounded.
One of the passengers held a handkerchief to the wound on his head and refused medical attention, pointing to the train where several carriages were destroyed and saying '”There are seriously wounded people in there, pull them out.''
Hospitals were swamped by people who arrived to donate blood – so much so that the Health Ministry was forced to issue a radio appeal asking people to keep away, in order to relieve the crowding in hospitals.
Jonatan, a Red Cross volunteer, told IPS that he had had to overcome a ''terrible pain'' that almost paralysed him when he and fellow rescue workers began to search for wounded people amongst the remains of bodies in the trains.
ETA (or Euskadi ta Alkartasuna, which means “Basque Fatherland and Liberty” in the Basque language) emerged in the 1960s under the dictatorship of General Franco. But it continued its violent campaign for independence after the restoration of democracy in 1975.
To date, ETA’s bloodiest attack was in 1987 in the Mediterranean city of Barcelona. The group planted a bomb in the Hipercor supermarket, killing 21 and injuring 45.
The head of the Autonomous Basque Government, Juan José Ibarretxe, a moderate nationalist, condemned the blasts. After declaring his campaign closed, Mariano Rajoy, PP candidate for prime minister, did the same.
PSOE candidate José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero called on all parties to remain united against terrorism, and urged citizens to come out massively to vote on Sunday.
IU candidate Gaspar Llamazares labelled the attacks ''a Nazi barbarity''. The Basque Nationalist Party, which governs the Basque Country, also called for unity. (END)
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