Barcelona mortar attack kills passer-by

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AT LEAST one passer-by was killed and eight wounded when suspected members of the Basque Eta separatist group fired two mortars from a parked car yesterday at a military headquarters on the busy Plaza de Colon (Columbus Square) at the end of Barcelona's Ramblas avenue.

The car from which the home- made mortars were fired, apparently by remote control or a timing device, later exploded, sending a column of thick smoke over the Columbus monument overlooking the city's port and the Mediterranean.

Both Barcelona's civil governor, Jaume Casanovas and military experts said the home-made mortars 'bore the hallmarks' of Eta. They were apparently similar to those used by the IRA in attacks on Heathrow airport earlier this year, although designed for short range, experts said. Two other home-made mortar tubes in the car apparently failed to go off but the car blew up, possibly by means of a time bomb, after police had cordoned off the busy square where marathon runners turned to run along the Mediterranean coast during the 1992 Olympic Games.

The Mayor of Barcelona, Pasqual Maragall, also blamed Eta, describing its members as 'a gang that no longer even has support in its own region, the Basque Country'.

Eta, whose initials stand for Basque Homeland and Liberty, have used mortars or grenade- launchers before, but not for the past three years. Then it attacked a police barracks in San Sebastian, in the Basque Country, but Eta commandos have been active in Barcelona, capital of the Catalonia region, for several years. They were believed responsible for killing an army colonel, Leopoldo Campos Garcia, outside his Barcelona home on 7 February this year. Their worst attack in Barcelona was a bomb that killed 21 people in a supermarket in 1987. Eta members also fired mortars at the Ministry of Defence building from a vehicle on Madrid's central Castellana boulevard on 21 July, 1986.

Eta's popularity has slipped in its own region and the group is believed to be split between a faction that wants to renounce violence and seek Basque independence by democratic means and a few small cells who have kept up attacks.

(Photograph omitted)