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Aznar stands behind ETA link to madrid bombing

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Spain's Aznar Stands By Possible ETA Link to Madrid Bombings
Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Spain's former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, today told a congressional inquiry he didn't rule out the involvement of the Basque terrorist group ETA in the March 11 train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid.

``What I say is: Investigate,'' Aznar told the panel during proceedings in Madrid that were aired live by Spanish broadcasters. ``I don't have a theory'' on who was behind the attacks, he said. Links between prisoners from Islamic militant groups and ETA have emerged in recent months, including meetings between the two groups in jails, Aznar said.

Aznar, 51, was prime minister at the time of the bombings. His Popular Party lost the general election three days later amid accusations the government tried to steer suspicion toward ETA and away from Islamists to boost its election chances. Aznar's government supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq and sent troops to help with the occupation.

The day before the election, an Islamic militant group took responsibility for the attacks, blaming Spanish involvement in Iraq, and afterward a group of Islamic terrorism suspects blew themselves up rather than be captured by police.

Aznar denied trying to influence public opinion in the hours after the bombings.

``The government gave all the information and gave it in real time,'' he said.

A 16-year-old nicknamed ``El Gitanillo,'' or little gypsy, on Nov. 16 became the first of 19 suspects to go on trial in connection with the bombings. He was sentenced to six years in a youth detention center after pleading guilty to handling explosives.

ETA stands for Euskadi ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom. The group has killed about 830 people since the late 1960s, when it began campaigning for an independent homeland in Basque-speaking areas of northern Spain and southwestern France.

Last Updated: November 29, 2004 08:16 EST

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