MADRID, Spain

Spain names group responsible for attack

The Spanish government named a Moroccan extremist group linked
to al-Qaida as the main focus of the Madrid bombing probe and said
yesterday that investigators were making swift progress.

The Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, forerunner of a group
blamed for last year’s suicide bombings in Casablanca, is now
the “priority,” Interior Minister Angel Acebes said
— a reversal of the government’s initial statements
that the prime suspects were Basque separatists.

“Other options are not being ruled out, but primarily the
investigation is going to go in this direction,” Acebes told
reporters.

The group had surfaced in Spanish news reports, but this was the
first time a Spanish government official publicly identified it as
the focus of investigation into the March 11 commuter train
bombings.

Acebes said witness testimony and the discovery of a rural house
where the attackers were believed to have assembled the backpack
bombs used in the attacks have led investigators closer to
unraveling the plot behind the bombings, which killed 191 people
and wounded more than 1,800.

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan

Police battle militants in Uzbekistan’s capital

Gunfire and explosions resounded in the capital yesterday as
Uzbek forces battled for hours with suspected Islamic militants
after two more suicide attacks. Officials claimed 20 terrorists and
three police died in the fighting.

The bloodshed brought the death toll to 42 after three days of
violence, the government said — the most serious unrest in
the country since Uzbekistan let hundreds of U.S. troops use a base
near the Afghan border after the Sept. 11 attacks. All of this
week’s attacks appeared to target Uzbek authorities.

The clashes yesterday were centered in the Yalangach
neighborhood, just outside the city limits off the road heading to
the official home of President Islam Karimov.

An Associated Press reporter saw four separate sites of fighting
in the district: remnants from two suicide bombings on roads, a
burned-out building pockmarked with bullet holes and the bodies of
at least five suspects splayed out in front of an apartment house.
The Interior Ministry said in an statement read on state-run
television that 20 terrorists and three police were killed in the
confrontations that began about 7:20 a.m., while five other police
were wounded.

LONDON

British police capture eight in terrorist hunt

Police arrested eight men and seized half a ton of ammonium
nitrate, a fertilizer compound used in the Oklahoma City bombing,
in raids by hundreds of officers — one of the biggest
anti-terrorism operations in Britain since the Sept. 11
attacks.

Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has warned for months that
London is a prime terrorist target, said the arrests yesterday were
a “timely reminder” of the threat from al-Qaida. But a
Muslim leader warned that the headline-grabbing dawn raids risked
demonizing the whole community.

Press Association, the British news agency, said all eight were
of Pakistani descent, but police would not comment.

Eight suspects were picked up in London and towns to the south
and west on suspicion of involvement in the “commission,
preparation or instigation” of acts of terrorism,
London’s Metropolitan Police said.

LA PAZ, Bolivia

Man detonates bomb in Bolivian congress

An angry miner with dynamite strapped to his chest blew himself
up inside Bolivia’s congress yesterday, also killing two
police officers, authorities said.

La Paz Police Chief Guido Arandia said the man — whose
demand for early retirement benefits underscored the grievances of
many low-paid miners in Bolivia — stormed into congress
around midday and went to a part of the building away from the
congressional chambers.

The miner detonated his vest laced with at least five sticks of
dynamite as congressional security police tried to negotiate,
killing himself and fatally wounding two of the police, Arandia
said.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Israel to dismantle several settlements

The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades warned an American
delegation yesterday not to visit the Palestinian territories,
accusing the United States of bias in favor of Israel. Hours later,
some group members backed down from the veiled threats.

Israel prepared to take down an unauthorized outpost in the West
Bank. Israeli security sources said Hazon David is one of several
such outposts to be dismantled ahead of Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon’s trip to the United States next month.

The move appeared to be aimed at building U.S. support for
Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and small parts
of the West Bank. Sharon plans to visit President Bush on April
14.

— Complied from Daily wire reports

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