Terrorist bombings jolt Spain
Simultaneous explosions in Madrid, blamed on the Basque separatist group, killed at least 182 people just days before general elections in Spain.
The bombs that exploded early Thursday morning in Madrid, killing at least 182 people in the single deadliest terrorist attack in modern European history, turned the city's Atocha train station into a scene of carnage and transformed Spain's political landscape three days before general elections.Skip to next paragraph
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Though no one has claimed responsibility for the 10 blasts that tore into trains and commuter railway stations during the morning rush hour, the police and government leaders blamed ETA, the separatist group demanding independence for the Basque region of northeastern Spain.
The deadly explosions thus blew every issue off the agenda other than the government's war on ETA, which the ruling Popular Party (PP) had made a key plank of its electoral platform.
World leaders who have joined the US-led war on terror were quick to draw analogies with terrorist incidents elsewhere. "Terrorism has once again shown it is prepared to stop at nothing in creating human victims," Russian President Vladimir Putin said. "An end must be put to this. As never before, it is vital to unite forces of the entire world community against terror."
"This terrible attack underlines the threat that we all continue to face from terrorism in many countries and why we must all work together internationally to safeguard our peoples against such attacks and defeat terrorism," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Domestically, the attack appeared to seal the ruling party's victory at the polls Sunday. "Logically this will benefit the Popular Party," says Jose Alvarez Junco, a political analyst at Madrid's Complutense University. "They are the ones who are seen as being toughest on ETA, who have taken a hard line with them."
Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party candidate for prime minister, called off the rest of his party's election campaign following the explosions, as a mark of respect, and other parties followed suit. But analysts said the 5 percent lead the Popular Party enjoyed over the opposition Socialists in the latest opinion polls would probably grow by Sunday, holding out the prospect of an absolute governing majority with no need for coalition partners.
Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had hoped to turn Spanish voters' overwhelming opposition to their government's support for the war in Iraq to his advantage. But the only war Spaniards will likely have on their minds when they go to the polls will be their own longrunning battle against Basque terrorism.
Suspicion immediately fell on ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty), which until Thursday had killed nearly 850 people in its 35-year war for Basque independence, partly because 10 days ago police intercepted a Madrid-bound van packed with more than 1,000 pounds of explosives, and blamed ETA. On Christmas Eve, police said they had thwarted a bombing at a Madrid railway station and arrested two suspected ETA members.
"It is absolutely clear that the terrorist organization ETA was seeking an attack with wide repercussions," Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said Thursday.
The leader of a banned political party linked to ETA, however, said he did not believe the group was responsible for the bombings, which were on a far larger scale than any attack the group had launched previously, and which occurred without the warnings ETA usually calls in before its attacks. Arnaldo Otegi, spokesman for Herri Batasuna, suggested in an interview with Radio Popular that "Arab resistance" elements were behind them.