Mallorca target of Spain's second attack in two days

Two policemen were killed, prompting Spain to briefly seal off its largest island. ETA separatists are key suspects, though the attackers are still not known.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Tourists watch flames from a car bomb explosion outside offices run by the Civil Guard paramilitary police in Palmanova, in the Balearic Island of Mallorca, Thursday. The car bomb killed two police officers, a day after a similar attack blamed on Basque separatists ETA in northern Spain, officials said.
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After a terrorist bombing by suspected Basque separatists killed two Spanish police officers on the holiday island of Mallorca on Thursday afternoon, the Spanish authorities took the unusual step of shutting the island's airport and ship terminals, effectively sealing off the island from the outside world for a few hours.

It was the second terrorist attack in 24 hours in Spain, following a car-bombing at a housing complex for soldiers and their families in Burgos yesterday that injured more than 60 but killed no one.

That attack, like this one, was immediately blamed by the authorities on ETA, a Basque separatist group that has fought the Spanish state off and on for 50 years.

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Some in Spain are worried that ETA, which has had dozens of operatives arrested in recent years and has lost support within Spain's Basque population, are ramping up their use of violence to maintain their political relevance (see this story for analysis.)

If the attack is confirmed as having been carried out by ETA, it would be the first time they've successfully claimed victims on Mallorca. The group carried out two bombings on the island 18 years ago that didn't generate casualties – and has also had plots to assassinate King Juan Carlos there foiled.

The two policemen died when a bomb stuck to their SUV exploded at about 2 p.m. local time in front of a police station in Palmanova, a popular tourist destination and just a few miles from the palace where the Spanish royal family spends its summer vacation.

Security forces believe the bomb was remotely activated by the attackers. Two high-rise hotels near the blast, the Palma Nova and Palmanova Palace, were evacuated as a precaution. A second bomb under another vehicle was deactivated by police hours later.

"People were told not to leave their hotels at the beginning, when everyone was nervous. Everyone was surprised with all the noise, and the people in the stores were scared," said Andrés Lasaga, a spokesperson in the municipality where the bomb went off. "But everything is returning to normal now."

Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who will travel to Mallorca Friday along with the leader of the main opposition party, Mariano Rajoy, said in a televised address that "I want to condemn this new vile act with upmost pain and anger." The suspects "will be detained, they will be prosecuted, and they will spend their lives in prison."

Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba flew to Mallorca to lead the investigation. Diplomatic messages of support and sympathy started flowing in almost immediately from European countries and the White House.

ETA ramping up attacks?

The Spanish police called the almost unprecedented sealing of the country's largest island "Operation Cage," hoping that whoever attached the bomb to the patrolman's car was still on the island.

But they've also caged up the thousands of British, German and Spanish tourists who have flocked to the sunny Mediterranean island at the height of the tourist season.

In the 1950s, Mallorca was one of the first destinations to be opened up to mass package tourism and today receives 10 million visitors a year to bake on the sand and dine and dance at night. Cruise ships scheduled to call on the island were delayed and planeloads of British holiday makers were turned back after taking off before the airport was reopened. But fewer Europeans are travelling this summer, a reflection of the economic downturn, so any lost business for hotels and restaurants will cut deeper than usual.

A receptionist in the Agua Beach Hotel, in the vicinity of the bomb, said all their clients were fine and relaxed. "We heard it, but people weren't too panicky," he said.

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