Six die in Madrid car-bomb blast

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The Independent Online


A huge car bomb exploded in a working-class suburb of Madrid yesterday, killing six people and wounding at least 18, three seriously. The explosion caused extensive damage in a crowded area. It destroyed several nearby vehicles and narrowly missed a school bus full of children.

The blast comes days before Europe's heads of government converge on the city for the European Union summit at the weekend. It follows the deaths on Sunday of two Basque policemen who were shot in the back in the Basque region of Guipuzcoa. The young man accused of their murder had apparently taken part in previous Eta assaults.

One of the six victims of yesterday's attack died of his injuries shortly after being taken to hospital. Another was an elderly woman who was passing by. The four others who died were the occupants of the vehicle, which was destroyed: civilian drivers and mechanics employed by the navy.

The Defence Minister, Gustavo Suarez Pertierra, who visited the scene, described the attack as "useless" and "outrageous". The perpetrators would not achieve their goals, he said.

The events could not have occurred at a worse time for the government, which has been doing everything in its power for months to ensure that the European summit on Friday and Saturday passes off smoothly.

The attack heightens fears of further violence by the Basque separatist group Eta, which last struck in Madrid in June when a policeman was blown up by a car bomb in the centre of the capital. The latest attack, like that in June, is attributed to Eta's Madrid command, whose structure the authorities acknowledge remains intact.

In April, the leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), Jose Maria Aznar, narrowly escaped death when 50kg of explosives destroyed the vehicle in which he was travelling. Only the strength of the armour- plating on Mr Aznar's car saved him. In August, police foiled an Eta plot to kill King Juan Carlos near his summer palace on the island of Majorca.

Unlike the long rapprochement that eventually brought peace between the British government and the IRA, there has never been any official suggestion in Spain that Eta's armed struggle, the last home-grown guerrilla war in Europe, could be ended by negotiation. Indeed, when a former secret security chief was last week accused by Basque police of handing Eta a proposed plan for negotiation, his alleged action was interpreted as an act of criminal folly.

None the less, Spain's secret security services, capable of logging even the private telephone conversations of the king, have been incapable of preventing a stream of terrorist attacks against carefully chosen political targets.

At the weekend, Herri Batasuna, Eta's political wing, elected a new hardline leadership in accordance with what the party called "the passing from the stage of resistance to a stage of offensive".

Yesterday's attack brings to 13 the number of people killed by terrorists this year. The first attack was in January when a policeman was shot dead in Bilbao. Ten days later, the PP leader in the Basque country, Gregorio Ordonez, was shot dead in a San Sebastian restaurant. In the most recent attack before yesterday's, an army captain was seriously wounded in a car bomb attack on 10 November; both his legs were amputated.