Madrid car bomb injures 99

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The Independent Online

Nearly 100 people were injured when a car bomb rocked a busy office and residential area of Madrid during morning rush-hour Tuesday.

Within an hour of the explosion, blamed on militant Basque separatists, police arrested a man and woman suspected of carrying out the attack.

The bomb exploded at 9:08 a.m. (0808 gmt), mangling more than a dozen cars and shattering windows along the street.

Ambulance service spokesman Emilio Benito said 99 victims were treated for injuries, almost all for cuts and shock. By midday, only four people remained in hospitals, including a woman and her three-year-old child. Their lives were not in danger, officials said.

Government spokesman Pio Cabanillas said the blast was powerful enough to have caused a "real massacre."

The bomb went off on Corazon de Maria street on the northeastern fringes of Madrid. The street parallels the N-II highway, the main route to Madrid's international airport and Barcelona. It is one of the busiest areas in the Spanish capital with many office and residential buildings.

At the time of the blast, thousands of people were heading to work and school in the area.

Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy said the bombers' target appeared to be Juan Junquera, secretary general of the government's scientific policy department, whose official car was passing by when the bomb went off. Junquera, a former interior and defense ministry official, was slightly injured.

Rajoy blamed the attack on ETA. Its assassins have killed more than 800 people in car bombings and shootings as part of the group's 33-year campaign for independence of Basque regions in northern Spain and southwestern France. ETA mostly targets security force members and politicians.

The explosion occurred close to the Spanish headquarters of the computer multinational IBM and offices of the Spanish bank BBVA.

The arrests were made after police received a phone call from a neighbor who reported seeing two suspicious individuals in the area. Rajoy said when they were detained, they were carrying explosives, two 9-mm Parabellum handguns ? ETA favorites ? wigs and false identification cards.

They were identified as Aitor Garcia Aliaga, a longtime suspected ETA member, and Ana Belen Egues Gurruchaga, a former town councilor for Herri Batasuna, a political party closely linked to ETA.

"We believe they are the two who carried out the attack, without a doubt," an Interior Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press.

ETA's most recent attack before Tuesday was also a car bomb explosion. In that attack, a car that had been parked illegally outside a telephone company office was towed by police to a municipal garage under Plaza Colon between the busy Castellana and Serrano boulevards, where it exploded around midnight on Oct. 12, a national holiday. ETA - the initials stand for Basque Homeland and Freedom in the Basque language - later claimed responsibility for that blast, which injured 17 people.

The latest explosion followed last week's arrest of more than a dozen members of two ETA-linked organizations.

The attack was condemned by all of Spain's political parties except for the ETA-linked Batasuna coalition. Its leader, Arnaldo Otegi, said the bomb and last week's arrests were "evidence of the political conflict" and urged Spanish leaders to follow the example of Northern Ireland by finding a negotiated solution.

Although talks with ETA have been held in the past, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has ruled out any future discussions. His position is that ETA must be defeated by police and legal means.

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