MADRID, Spain (AP) — Ten terrorist bombs tore through
trains and stations along a commuter line at the height of the
morning rush hour yesterday, killing more than 190 people and
wounding 1,200 others three days before Spain’s general
Spain initially blamed Basque separatists for the bombings, but
the interior minister also said other lines of investigation were
opened after police found a van yesterday with detonators and an
audiotape of Quranic verses near where the bombed trains
The Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi said it had received a
claim of responsibility issued in the name of al-Qaida.
The e-mail claim of responsibility, signed by the shadowy
Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, was received at the newspaper’s
London offices and said the brigade’s “death
squad” had penetrated “one of the pillars of the
crusade alliance, Spain.”
“This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the
crusader, and America’s ally in its war against Islam,”
the claim said.
Spain had backed the U.S.-led war on Iraq despite domestic
opposition, and many al-Qaida-linked terrorists have been captured
in Spain or were believed to have operated from there.
After an emergency cabinet meeting, a somber Prime minister Jose
Maria Aznar vowed to hunt down the attackers.
“This is mass murder,” he said.
The bombers used titadine, a kind of compressed dynamite also
found in a bomb-laden van intercepted last month as it headed for
Madrid, a source at Aznar’s office said on condition of
anonymity. Officials blamed the ETA separatist group at that
Police found a van with detonators and an Arabic-language tape
with Quranic verses in the town of Alcala de Henares, 15 miles east
of Madrid, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said last night.
Police found seven detonators and the tape on the front seat of
the van, Acebes said during a news conference.
He added that ETA remained the “main line of
investigation” in the blasts, Europe’s worst terror
attack since the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie,
Scotland, that killed 270.
Three of the four trains bombed yesterday originated in Alcala
de Henares and one passed through it, the state rail company
Panicked commuters abandoned bags and their shoes as they
trampled each other to escape the Atocha terminal, where bombs
struck two trains. Some fled into darkened, dangerous tunnels at
the station, a bustling hub for subway, commuter and long-distance
trains just south of Madrid’s famed Prado Museum.
The bodies of the dead, some with their cell phones ringing
unanswered as frantic relatives tried to contact them, were carried
away by rescue workers. The wounded, faces bloodied, sat on curbs
as buses were pressed into service as ambulances.
One firefighter said he saw 70 bodies along a platform at El
Pozo station, just east of downtown Madrid. One corpse had been
blown onto the roof.
Forty coroners worked to identify remains, the national news
agency Efe said, and a steady stream of taxis carried relatives to
a sprawling convention center where the bodies were taken.
A total of 10 bombs, nearly all in backpacks, exploded in a
15-minute span along nine miles of the commuter line —
running from Santa Eugenia to the Madrid hub of Atocha —
killing 192 people and injuring more than 1,240, Interior Minister
Angel Acebes said.
Police found and detonated three other bombs.
The blasts began about 7:40 a.m., tearing through trains or
platforms on the commuter line running to the Atocha station. At
least two of the bombs went off in trains at that station.
ETA has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in its decades-old
campaign to carve an independent Basque homeland from territory
straddling northern Spain and southwest France. However, its
attacks have been on a lesser scale than Thursday’s bombings,
with the largest toll being 21 killed in a supermarket blast in
Barcelona in 1987.
Spanish officials had said ETA was against the ropes after the
arrest last year of more than 150 members or collaborators in Spain
and France, including the leaders of ETA’s commando network.
Last year, ETA killed three people, compared with 23 in 2000 and 15
Spain held peace talks with ETA in the late 1980s and again in
1998 after the group declared a cease-fire that lasted 14 months.
But ETA resumed attacks, and Aznar has insisted on crushing it with
“No negotiation is possible or desirable with these
assassins who so many times have sown death all around
Spain,” Aznar said yesterday.
Acebes said ETA tried a similar attack on Christmas Eve, placing
bombs on two trains bound for a Madrid station that was not hit
yesterday. He also noted the Feb. 29 police interception of a
Madrid-bound van packed with more than 1,100 pounds of explosives.
Authorities blamed ETA.
“Therefore, it is absolutely clear and evident that the
terrorist organization ETA was looking to commit a major
attack,” Acebes said. “The only thing that varies is
the train station that was targeted.”
A top Basque politician, Arnold Otegi, denied the separatists
were behind the blasts and blamed “Arab
Otegi told Radio Popular in San Sebastian that ETA always phones
in warnings before attacking. Acebes said there was no warning
President Bush called Aznar to express solidarity and sympathy,
condemning “this vicious attack of terrorism in the strongest
possible terms,” National Security Council spokesman Sean
“The United States stands resolutely with Spain in the
fight against terrorism in all its forms and against the particular
threat that Spain faces from the evil of ETA terrorism,”
added Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Rescue workers were overwhelmed, said Enrique Sanchez, an
ambulance driver who went to Santa Eugenia station, about six miles
southeast of the Atocha station.
“There was one carriage totally blown apart. People were
scattered all over the platforms. I saw legs and arms. I
won’t forget this ever. I’ve seen horror,”
Shards of twisted metal were scattered by rails in the Atocha
station at the spot where an explosion severed a train in two.
“I saw many things explode in the air … it was
horrible,” said Juani Fernandez, 50, a civil servant who was
on the platform waiting to go to work.
“People started to scream and run, some bumping into each
other and as we ran there was another explosion. I saw people with
blood pouring from them, people on the ground.”
The attack horrified Spain on the eve of Sunday’s general
election. Campaigning was called off and three days of mourning
were declared. Newspapers ran special editions.
The campaign was largely dominated by separatist tensions in
regions like the Basque country, with both the ruling conservative
Popular Party and the opposition Socialists ruling out talks with
ETA. The Socialists had come under withering criticism because a
politician linked to them in the Catalonia region admitted meeting
with ETA members in France in January.
The government convened anti-ETA rallies nationwide for Friday
evening and announced three days of mourning.
“What a horror,” said the Basque regional president,
Juan Jose Ibarretxe, who insisted ETA does not represent the Basque
people. “When ETA attacks, the Basque heart breaks into a
More than eight in 10 Spaniards said in an Associated
Press-Ipsos poll taken last month that they are worried about the
threat of terrorism in their country. That was the highest level of
concern about terrorism in five European countries polled —
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.