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Attacks 911 days after sept 11 01 { March 13 2004 }

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Terror strikes 911 days after September 11
By BEN ENGLISH in Madrid
March 13, 2004

A NATION was last night in mourning and an anxious world braced for more terror attacks, as terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the train bombs that killed at least 198 people in the Spanish capital.

Spain has blamed local terrorist organisation ETA for the biggest terrorist attack on a European city since World War II, but a group claiming to be acting for al-Qaida said it was behind the blasts, which ripped through the packed carriages of three trains on Thursday morning.

Ominously, the group has claimed a terror assault it has dubbed "Winds of Black Death" will soon be made on the US.

The attacks came exactly 911 days after the September 11, 2001, terror strikes on New York and Washington, known as 9/11 by Americans.

World leaders, including Australian Prime Minister John Howard, have universally condemned the Madrid attack, which also injured more than 2000 people.

As suspicion was increasingly focused on al-Qaida, investigators found near Madrid a van containing seven bomb detonators and a cassette tape with verses in Arabic from the Koran.

In an e-mail to a London-based Arabic newspaper, a group calling itself The Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri warned that more attacks on the US would follow the Madrid bombings.

"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," it said.

"The death squad succeeded in penetrating the crusader . . . and striking one of the pillars of the crusader alliance Spain with a painful blow.

"We bring the good news to Muslims of the world that the expected `Winds of Black Death' strike against America is now in its final stage . . . 90 per cent (ready) and God willing near." The al-Qaida terrorist network has a long history in Spain. At least some of the planning for the September 11 attacks took place there and the country also has been a vocal US ally in the war on terrorism.

Basque separatists ETA have denied any involvement. It has no connection to al-Qaida and no religious underpinnings. No Australians have been reported dead or missing in the Madrid blasts.

The bombs, made up of 200kg of explosives, began exploding by remote control at 6.30am on Thursday and were detonated at seemingly co-ordinated four-to-five minute intervals in downtown Madrid. Seven were detonated at or near the main Atocha station. Smaller stations were also hit, with one bomb at Santa Eugenia and two at Pozo.

Authorities destroyed a further three bombs in controlled explosions. In all, 13 bombs had been planted around the city.

The timing, during the city's morning rush-hour, was designed to maximise the death toll.

Prime Minister John Howard described the bombings as an unjustified atrocity and added that a terrorist attack on Australian soil remained a possibility.

"Let me say immediately how much I express, on behalf of the Australian people, our sorrow and our outrage and our sense of support and concern for the people of Spain," Mr Howard told radio 3AW in Melbourne.

"It's a dreadful atrocity without any kind of justification."

US President George W. Bush branded the bombings "a vicious act of terrorism" while British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they served as a reminder of the threat posed by terrorism.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that "nothing justifies the killing of innocent people, whatever the cause".

Madrid, a city used to isolated acts of terror, was last night emerging from the shock of the scale of the attacks.

Mobile blood transfusion units were set up throughout the city, but hospitals and medical resources were overwhelmed.

Around the crumpled wreckage of the bombed trains, makeshift triage units were set up as investigators began sifting through the flesh and shrapnel of the blasts' debris.

The death toll mounted so quickly that there was not enough hearses to transport the bodies away from the bomb sites.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday warned Australians in Spain that more terrorist attacks could occur.

"Australians in Spain are advised to exercise caution and be aware of developments that might affect their safety," the DFAT web site said.

DFAT said Australians should avoid demonstrations and other large public gatherings.

The Advertiser

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