190 killed in Madrid trains 'massacre'

Spanish government blames Basque separatists for 10-bomb blitz
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Powerful explosions rocked three Madrid railway stations today just days before Spain's general elections, killing at least 190 rush–hour commuters and injuring more 1,200.

Powerful explosions rocked three Madrid railway stations today just days before Spain's general elections, killing at least 190 rush–hour commuters and injuring more 1,200.

The government blamed the armed Basque separatist group Eta. "Eta had been looking for a massacre in Spain," Interior Minister Angel Acebes said after an emergency cabinet meeting. "Unfortunately, today it achieved its goal."

The Interior Ministry said the explosives used in the blasts were of the kind that ETA normally uses.A ministry official said Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Mr Acebes had been told this following tests on the explosives.

Earlier Arnold Otegi, leader of Batasuna, an outlawed Basque party linked to the armed separatist group, denied it was behind the blasts and suggested "Arab resistance" elements were responsible.

Mr Otegi told Radio Popular in San Sebastian that Eta always phoned in warnings before it attacked. The interior minister said there was no warning before today's bombings.

"The modus operandi, the high number of victims and the way it was carried out make me think, and I have a hypothesis in mind, that yes it may have been an operative cell from the Arab resistance," Mr Otegi said.

The blasts killed 173 people and injured 594, said Leopoldo Herraiz, a spokesman for the Madrid emergency medical services.

A blitz of 10 bombs hit the Spanish capital at around 7.30am. (0630 GMT). Three exploded in a commuter train arriving at Atocha station, a bustling hub for subway, commuter and long-distance trains in the Spainish capital.

Blasts also rocked trains at two stations in Madrid's southern suburbs on a commuter line leading to Atocha. Mr Acebes said there were 13 blasts altogether. Three devices timed to go off as emergency services arrived on the scenes, were made safe in controlled explosions.

People in tears streamed away from Atocha station as rescue workers carried bodies covered in sheets of gold fabric. People with bloodied faces sat on curbs, using mobile phones to tell loved ones they were alive. Hospitals appealed for blood donations. Buses were pressed into service as ambulances.

The attacks traumatised Spain on the eve of Sunday's general election.

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.

But the Socialists came in for withering criticism because a politician linked to the Socialist-run government in the Catalonia region, which also has separatist sentiment, admitted meeting with Eta members in France in January. The Socialists were lambasted as allegedly undermining Spain's fight against Eta.

Rescue workers were overwhelmed, said Enrique Sanchez, an ambulance driver who went to Santa Eugenia station, about six miles south-east of Atocha.

"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, I don't know, it was horrible," said Juani Fernandez, aged 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," Fernandez said.

It was the worst terrorist attack ever in Spain.

The deadliest attack blamed on Eta so far came in a Barcelona supermarket explosion in 1987, which killed 21 people.

"Those responsible for this tragedy will be arrested and they will pay very dearly for it," Interior Minister Angel Acebes said at Atocha.

The government convened anti-Eta rallies nationwide for tomorrow 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 thousand pieces," he said in the Basque capital Vitoria.

"This is one of those days that you don't want to live through," said opposition Socialist party spokesman Jesus Caldera. "Eta must be defeated," referring to the group as "those terrorists, those animals."

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the attacks terrorist atrocities and a "disgusting assault on the very principle of European democracy."

Mr Straw said that Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder" with Spain and was ready to send any kind of material help needed.

Elsewhere, European Parliament President Pat Cox said the bomb attacks amounted to "a declaration of war on democracy."

"No more bombs, no more dead," Cox said in Spanish before a hushed legislature in Strasbourg, France. "It is an outrageous, unjustified and unjustifiable attack on the Spanish people and Spanish democracy."

Police had been on high alert for Basque separatist violence ahead the election.

Last month, police intercepted a Madrid-bound van packed with more than 500 kilograms (1,100lbs) of explosives, and blamed Eta. On Christmas Eve, police thwarted an attempted bombing at Chamartin, another Madrid rail station, and arrested two suspected Eta members.

Until today, ETA had been blamed for more than 800 deaths in its decades–old campaign to carve an independent Basque homeland out of territory straddling northern Spain and southwest France.