Two missing after Eta bomb hits Madrid airport car park

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The Independent Online

A powerful car bomb planted by Eta Basque separatists yesterday devastated a five-storey car park at Madrid's Barajas airport, leaving at least 26 people wounded and two missing.

It was Eta's first such attack since the organisation declared a permanent ceasefire in March. The dramatic resurgence of violence dashes the nation's hopes of a peace process that might eventually end decades of conflict.

Planned to create maximum political and international impact at peak holiday season, the bombing is a serious blow to the socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who - in the teeth of conservative opposition - staked his reputation on preparing for talks with Eta. Mr Zapatero last night cut short a family holiday to return to Madrid.

Three telephone warnings to security services, one of them in the name of Eta, heralded yesterday morning's blast. Police cordoned off the airport's parking area and found a bomb under a purple Renault truck.

One missing man was apparently taking a nap in his parked car. Police feared he was buried in the wreckage of the car park, whose five concrete floors collapsed under the force of the blast. If anyone is found dead, it would be the first time Eta has killed in more than three years.

Spain's Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, condemned the attack. "There is no room for doubt that this was the work of Eta," he said.

The explosion sent thick grey smoke billowing into the airport's new Terminal 4 building, which was closed to air traffic for several hours, throwing the airport into chaos on one of its busiest days for holiday traffic. The airport's other three terminals remained open.

"I was knocked over by the force of the explosion. The windows were all shattered and there was smoke and dust everywhere," said Sandra Ceron, who was waiting in the arrivals hall for a flight from Colombia.

Most of Madrid's international flights now operate from the spectacular Terminal 4, which was designed by the British architect Lord Rogers and opened only in February.

Behind Eta's ceasefire lie years of secret contact between clandestine militants and Basque socialists, mediated by priests and former hitmen pledged now to the democratic road. It was controversial from the start, and in recent weeks seemed heading for disaster. The opposition Popular Party attacked Mr Zapatero's bold plan to talk Eta out of violence rather than try to defeat them, organising mass protests in opposition to any rapprochement with terrorists.

Eta, meanwhile, became impatient as the government refused to concede to any of its demands, in particular to bring nearer home hundreds of prisoners dispersed throughout Spain, and to legalise its political party, Batasuna.

Only on Friday, Mr Zapatero said the government remained optimistic the ceasefire would lead to a definitive peace process, despite speculation that Eta might resume attacks.