Eta sets off car bomb at stadium before game

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The Independent Online

Basque separatists from the terrorist group Eta claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded opposite Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu football stadium yesterday hours before Real Madrid played Barcelona.

The blast caused extensive damage to the outside of a tower block opposite the stadium, shattering windows and twisting the facade up to the 22nd floor. Flying glass and shrapnel injured several fans of both teams who were in the area for last night's Champions' League semi-final, which Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate.

The tall tower block in the glistening commercial quarter was immediately engulfed in dense black smoke that billowed into the clear sky, in a scene reminiscent of 11 September. Up to 10 cars caught fire, including the bomb-carrying Renault 17 that held 20kg (44lb) of explosives and had been parked near the basement of the block.

The explosion caused panic in the crowd, already in a state of high excitement because of a traditionally tense face-off between Spain's giant football rivals. But with a heavy police presence mobilised for the match, the area was quickly cleared and the site cordoned off. Health workers set up a first aid post to tend about a dozen people, including two policemen who were lightly injured.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze and swept away the shards of glass and rubble that sprayed across the city's main Castellana Avenue.

Eta militants had telephoned a warning to the pro-separatist newspaper Gara in San Sebastian half an hour before the blast, giving police time to evacuate the Torre de Europa tower block. The building, housing a major savings bank, is normally packed with workers but was almost empty on the May Day public holiday. Within half an hour, another car thought to have been used as a getaway vehicle exploded about two miles south of the centre of Madrid. A kilogram of dynamite had been placed under the driver's seat of the Ford Escort that police said had been stolen in Madrid in March.

The vehicle was not completely destroyed, giving police the hope of tracing the bomb-ers. The car was dumped near Madrid's motorway ringroad, where the attackers are thought to have slipped away.

Two men were detained near the stadium. They were unconnected with the attack but were hardline "Ultra Sur" Real Madrid fans who scuffled with police in the ensuing melee after the bomb.

Officials from the Uefa European football federation decided at an emergency meeting that the match would go ahead, after police searched the stadium and its surroundings, and normality returned a couple of hours after the explosion.

Uefa had been criticised for going ahead with matches on 11 September but the outcome of yesterday's attack was far less grave. As the grey smoke clouds cleared, bright sunshine and the festive pre-match atmosphere soon returned.

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