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Anzar sowing confusion over madrid bombs { December 14 2004 }

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Aznar 'sowing confusion' over Madrid bombs
By Leslie Crawford in Madrid
Published: December 14 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 14 2004 02:00

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, yesterday ruled out the involvement of Eta, the violent Basque separatist group, in the March 11 train bombings in Madrid that left 191 people dead and wounded 1,900.

Mr Zapatero, testifying before a parliamentary committee investigating the attack, accused the opposition Popular party of sowing confusion by continued insistence on a connection between Eta and some Islamist extremists who were arrested after the massacre.

The Popular party government, which blamed Eta for the attacks and lost a general election three days after the bombings, has accused Mr Zapatero of failing to investigate alleged links between Basque separatists and the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

José María Aznar, the former prime minister, told the parliamentary inquiry last week: "All terrorist groups are the same and end up having links between them. I am convinced that the people who ordered the massacre are not hiding in distant mountains or deserts, but are far closer to home."

Mr Zapatero, however, told the inquiry that Mr Aznar's allegations were groundless. "If he has evidence, he should go to the courts. If he wants to sow confusion, he should go elsewhere."

Quoting reports from the Ministry of Interior, police and prison authorities, the current Spanish premier said there was not a shred of evidence linking Basque separatists to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Mr Zapatero, who was the leader of the opposition Socialist party at the time of the train bombings, accused Mr Aznar's government of conducting a "massive campaign of deception" to favour its own party at the polls in the days after the bombings.

"There was never any evidence that pointed to Eta," Mr Zapatero said.

The parliamentary inquiry, which began hearings in July, has become bogged down by partisan arguments on which party benefited most from the train bombings before elections. The security failings that led to the massacre and the size of the Islamist threat have been accorded less importance by the committee.

Last week, supporters of Mr Aznar lambasted relatives of the train bombing victims who had gathered to protest against the former prime minister and his support for the US-led Iraq war.

Many Spaniards blame Mr Aznar's pro-US foreign policy for making Spain a target of Islamist terrorism. In a sign of how the aftermath of the attacks has divided society, Mr Aznar's supporters shouted: "You can shove your dead up your ass."

Mr Zapatero dismissed accusations from the Popular party that his government was not devoting sufficient resources to the terrorist threat.

The prime minister said his government had foiled an attempt by Islamist extremists to blow up Madrid's high court for terrorist crimes in October.

More than 60 Islamists have been arrested since the new government took office in April. Mr Zapatero said his government has reassigned 500 police to anti-terrorist units, and hired 40 Arabic translators to help with intelligence gathering.

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