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Europe

Bombs Rip Through Madrid

Thursday morning rush hour in Spain's capital came to a halt when several bombs went off in a commuter train station, killing 182 people just days ahead of national elections.

Madrid is in a state of shock.

Powerful explosions rocked several Madrid train stations during morning rush hour. News reports said two bombs went off in a high-speed commuter train arriving at the busy downtown Atocha station at 7:30 a.m. local time. Blasts also ripped through two other stops -- Santa Eugenia and El Pozo -- on a southeastern commuter line leading to Atocha, the news agency Efe reported.

Spanish National Radio quoted witnesses saying they saw people lying on the ground and train cars ripped open. People in tears and bloodied could be seen running away from the station in panic.

The Spanish interior ministry has reported at least 182 people dead and more than 900 injured.

Hospitals appealed for people to donate blood. Make-shift emergency rooms were set up in neighboring sports centers, and taxis and buses were turned into ambulances to transport the severely wounded to nearby emergency rooms.

The country's rail authority RENFE has halted all commuter traffic into the capital. Politicians for the major parties have called off all campaigning ahead of the weekend's general election.

The work of ETA?

So far there has been no claim of responsibility, but police were quick to point their finger at the Basque separatist group ETA. Security offices throughout the country have been on high alert for separatist violence ahead of the country's general elections on Sunday.

Spain's conservative ruling party, which has built up its campaign on a hard-line stance against ETA, is currently leading in the polls. In the last several weeks, the government has made several high-profile arrests of ETA members.

"This is a collective killing by the criminal band which is ETA," government spokesman Eduardo Zaplana told Cadena Ser radio station.

Spain's Interior Ministry also said tests showed the explosives used in the attacks were a kind of dynamite normally used by ETA. Aznar's office said the explosives were a material called titadine, a kind of compressed dynamite found in a van-bomb intercepted last month as it headed for Madrid, according to an Associated Press report.

On Feb. 29, police intercepted a Madrid-bound van packed with more than 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) of explosives traced back to the Basque separatists; two men were arrested on charges of terrorism. On Christmas eve, police thwarted an attempted bombing at Chamartin, another Madrid rail station, and arrested two suspected ETA members.

The leader of the banned Basque separatist party Batasuna, however, denied that its armed group ETA was behind the coordinated bombings. Speaking on Radio Popular Arnold Otegi blamed "Arab resistance" for the attacks, the worst in Spain's history.

History of terror

The wreckage of a Spanish intercity train destroyed by an explosion lies on the track at Atocha railway station in Madrid Spain, Thursday, March 11, 2004.

The European Union and the United States have listed ETA, which stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom, as a terrorist organization. The group has committed itself to an armed fight for an independent Basque state, comprising the Basque regions of north-western Spain as well as parts of southern France.

A partial cease fire announced in Feb. 18 for the region of Catalonia has done little to reduce the group's potential threat to security in Spain ahead of the elections. In the past ETA has been known to stage attacks around big events and anniversaries. In the run-up to the last general election four years ago, ETA ended a 14-month cease fire with a series of deadly bombings in Madrid and the Basque Country.

Since taking up arms in the 1960s the group has killed more than 800 people.

DW.DE