Eta bomb at Madrid airport raises fresh tourism fears

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The Independent Online

A car bomb planted by the Basque separatist group Eta exploded at Madrid's main Barajas airport on Monday, causing extensive damage but no injuries. It was the third attack in a month against the tourist industry during peak season.

The incident demonstrates that Eta remains active despite two police raids last week and will raise fears among tourists that one of Europe's favourite destinations is becoming dangerous to visit.

Basque police received an hour's warning of the car bomb, giving Madrid police time to clear the area of civilians. But the explosion was shortly before the stated time of 8am and the informant gave the wrong number plate, prompting suspicions that terrorists sought to injure policemen looking for the vehicle.

The 50kg-bomb ripped through the three-storey car park in the airport's domestic and European terminal, destroying about 120 cars and gutting the building. An Air Europa check-in official, who was at her desk at the time, said: "There was an incredibly loud explosion and my screen and everything else shook. Then there was this tremendous silence in the airport and I got really nervous."

The airport was cordoned off, causing long tailbacks along the motorway from Madrid, and flames and billowing smoke were visible for miles. Anxious passengers abandoned their cars and taxis to drag their luggage along the road.

In recent days, security authorities warned of a likely Eta attack in Madrid after police detained 13 and seized arms and explosives. Josep Pique, the Foreign Minister, said yesterday: "It's obvious that following the police successes of the past few days, something to prove Eta's continued capacity was predictable."

Spain's ruling Popular Party condemned the bomb as the work of a "mafia organisation". A party spokesman said: "The authors of this atrocity... will end up rotting behind bars."

Airport authorities said no departures were delayed by the blast, but hundreds of passengers missed their flights.

The blast forms part of Eta's summer strategy of inflicting spectacular but non-lethal attacks on Spain's key tourist spots. Last month, Malaga airport was brought to a standstill for hours while police defused a car bomb. On 18 August, hundreds of foreign guests fled a hotel at Salou on the Costa Dorada moments before a bomb blast. Days earlier, police defused two devices on the Ave high-speed train link from Madrid to Seville.

Police admitted on Monday that this latest blast indicated that Eta's network had not been dismantled.