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Two suspected eta members arrested last month with explosives { March 12 2004 }

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Two suspected ETA members were arrested last month when police intercepted their truck east of Madrid.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said at the time the truck had been carrying 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds) of explosives and 30 kilogrammes (66 pounds) of dynamite, to be used within the next few days in the capital.

Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 12 March 2004 1548 hrs

Al-Qaeda, ETA suspected in Madrid attacks that kill 192

MADRID : Spanish officials stunned by coordinated bomb blasts in Madrid that killed 192 people and wounded more than 1,400 said they were keeping their lines of investigation open after clues emerged possibly implicating Basque or Islamic militants.

The carnage, carried out in four trains and three railway stations in the southeast of the capital in morning rush-hour, was the worst terror attack in Europe since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people.

Spanish authorities, who initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA, said they had found a stolen van containing detonators and an audio tape with Koranic verses in Arabic in Madrid after the blasts.

At the same time, a London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, issued a statement it said it had received from Al-Qaeda claiming responsibility.

The news of the possible Al-Qaeda involvement sent sharemarkets and the US dollar plummeting.

The Dow Jones index in New York slid more than one percent, following European indices down. The dollar weakened against the euro, which went from 1.2222 dollars late Wednesday to 1.2352 Thursday.

Share prices in Tokyo opened 1.18 percent lower on Friday and Australian shares also eased.

The atrocity, which Spanish media and officials described as "our own September 11", came exactly two and a half years after the attacks in New York and Washington, or 911 days, and just three days before general elections that the ruling conservative Popular Party is widely expected to win.

Three days of national mourning have been declared.

Government spokesman Eduardo Zaplana said late Thursday held ETA responsible for the attacks but denied that a suicide attack had been part of the series as earlier reported by the private radio station Cadena Ser which cited anti-terrorist sources.

"Everything leads to the criminal terrorist gang ETA," Zaplana said on public TVE television.

Zaplana accused unidentified sources of confusing the issues.

"There can be no suicide attack because at this stage of the inquiry we would know," he said.

Reports that there may also "have been a suicide attack or that there could be a Muslim among the dead, which has been denied by the police," are a "tall story", he added.

"Let's not get distracted, everything leads in the same direction: ETA," said Zaplana.

As for the statement which was published by Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Zaplana said that according to the police "these groups take one or two months to claim" responsibility.

Two suspected ETA members were arrested last month when police intercepted their truck east of Madrid.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said at the time the truck had been carrying 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds) of explosives and 30 kilogrammes (66 pounds) of dynamite, to be used within the next few days in the capital.

"They even had a card marking an area, the Henares corridor, which is related to what happened this morning" and the explosive, dynamite, is "what ETA uses", he said.

Cadena Ser, Spain's most popular radio station, said that "at least one man set himself aflame in one of the train wagons which arrived at Atocha station Thursday morning.

"He wore three layers of underwear and was closely shaven, which is common for Arab suicide commandos who because of their faith usually do this before immolating themselves."

The radio said it was therefore decided to contact Israeli forensic experts with experience in bombings through the Spanish embassy in Israel who will help Spain identify the dead.

Spanish King Juan Carlos said in a televised address to the people after visiting survivors in one of the city's hospitals, "A nightmare has struck showing terrorism's cruel face."

"Your king is suffering with all of you and shares your indignation."

The blasts occurred on trains and in railway stations packed with commuters, many of whom had to be cut free by emergency workers. Bodies were hauled away to a makeshift morgue.

In Madrid and throughout Spain, people took to central squares to hold protests against terrorism. Larger rallies were planned for late Friday.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, known for his hardline stance against ETA, and for his unflinching support for the US-led war and occupation of Iraq despite public opposition and a threat from Al-Qaeda, vowed retribution.

"We will not back down in the face of terrorist killings. The perpetrators will be tried and convicted," he said.

Aznar, who is retiring from politics after Sunday's vote, did not specify any suspects. Campaigning has been cut short out of respect for the victims.

Immediately after the blasts, the interior minister had said there was "no doubt" ETA was responsible. The Basque militant group has been blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people in its 36-year violent campaign for an independent northern homeland.

But later Thursday Acebes held a media conference to say that the van stolen from Acala de Henares, east of Madrid, where the four trains blown apart had originated from, had been found in the capital with the audio tape in Arabic and seven detonators inside.

Describing the find as "a new clue," he said the focus of the investigation "remains ETA, but we must be very cautious and investigate other leads."

He said the verses in Arabic were those "usually used to teach the Koran," and that they "did not contain any threat".

Acebes left open the possibility that the tape might have been planted to mislead authorities. He also noted that the explosive used was dynamite -- preferred materiel for ETA.

Traces of an explosive substance which are being analyzed and which are not the type of dynamite usually used by ETA have been found in the van, Cadena Ser radio cited anti-terrorist sources as saying.

As Acebes was speaking, Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper issued a statement it said it had received from Al-Qaeda in which the organisation -- held responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks -- claimed the Madrid blasts.

The attack "was a part of the settling of old scores with crusader Spain, America's ally in its war against Islam," said the statement, a copy of which was sent to AFP by the newspaper.

"Where is America, O Aznar? Who is going to protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and other collaborators from us?" the statement asked.

The tone recalled that employed in an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden and aired by Al-Jazeera television on October 18 in which the Al-Qaeda leader threatened attacks against Spain, Britain, Australia, Poland, Japan and Italy.

The statement also claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a masonic lodge in Istanbul two days earlier, and for the killing of 19 Italian soldiers and civilians in southern Iraq last November. It threatened attacks on US targets.

The claims could not be independently verified, although Al-Quds Al-Arabi has previously relayed several claims by Al-Qaeda.

The editor of Al-Quds, Abdel Bari Atwan, said he believed the Al-Qaeda claim of responsibility was genuine.

"In the past, the same organisation sent us similar letters. They claimed responsibility for the attacks against Italian troops in Iraq and also for other attacks in Istanbul against the British consulate," he told Britain's Sky News.

"It is the routine of this kind of organisation to send these kind of e-mails."

The leader of a political party close to ETA, Arnaldo Otegi, denied that the Basque group was involved, saying "Arab resistance" was to blame because of Spain's role in supporting the US-led occupation of Iraq. Spain has deployed 1,300 troops to the country to reinforce the US presence.

The head of the European police organisation Europol, Juergen Storbeck, also cast doubt on ETA's involvement, telling reporters in Rome that the bombings were not preceded by a warning, as in previous ETA attacks.

Interpol said it stood ready to help in the investigation if asked, and was checking the details of the blasts against its database of attacks around the world.

In an unusual move, the UN Security Council, acting on Spain's information, voted unanimously to immediately condemn ETA for the bombings.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he hoped the people behind the Madrid bomb attacks would quickly be caught and brought to trial.

In the United States, President George W. Bush telephoned Aznar to express his condolences and to say he supported the Madrid government.


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