Death Toll in Spain Bombings Rises - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3-12-04

Death Toll in Spain Bombings Rises

MADRID, Spain March 12 — Millions of Spaniards streamed into cold and rainy streets Friday in silent tribute to the 198 people killed in the country's worst terrorist attack, while police removed evidence from the shattered commuter trains in the hunt for the bombers.

Spanish officials initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA for Thursday's stunningly well-coordinated series of 10 explosions on Madrid's packed commuter trains. Later they said they were studying a claim of responsibility by a shadowy group in the name of al-Qaida.

Underscoring the jittery nerves in the capital, police hastily evacuated Atocha station, where one of the trains was bombed, in what later turned out to be a false alarm.

At noon, the nation observed 10 minutes of silence, to begin a three-day period of mourning. Offices, shops and cafes across Spain emptied as people went to stand in the street and remember those killed.

Afterward, many broke into spontaneous applause a Spanish way to show respect and say goodbye.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar stood outside the presidential palace with senior officials. The silence there was broken when someone angrily shouted: "Send the terrorists to the firing squad!"

In Barcelona, subways and buses stood still and construction work stopped. In northern Spain's Basque region, hundred of students and professors at the University of the Basque Country in Leioa stood in silence and clapped afterward.

"This is to show our rejection of violence and our solidarity with the families (of the dead)," said Mikel Luzuriaga, a Basque medical student.

Passengers sobbed, lit candles and left flowers at the Atocha station in the heart of the capital, and trains had to roll past wreckage left on the tracks.

"I saw the trains and I burst into tears," said Isabel Galan, 32. "I felt so helpless, felt such anger."

All of Spain's TV networks placed a small red-and-yellow Spanish flag with a black sash in the corner of the screen. Commuter trains also traveled with black cloth on the engine cars.

The government called nationwide rallies for Friday evening, with European leaders, including prime ministers from France and Italy, expected to attend along with millions of Spaniards.

The death toll rose overnight to 198, deputy Justice Minister Rafael Alcala said, adding that 84 bodies remain unidentified. More than 1,400 people were wounded.

Aznar said 14 foreigners were among the dead, including three Peruvians, two Hondurans, two Poles, and a person each from France, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia, Morocco and Guinea-Bissau.

Investigators working through the night took away samples from the twisted wreckage of the four bombed trains to study the explosives and other data, a senior Spanish police official said.

"They are analyzing absolutely everything," another official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "All sectors of the police force are involved."

The New York City police department sent two people from the intelligence division to Madrid a detective expert in bombs and a lieutenant who was assigned to Interpol.

Aznar said no suspects have been ruled out.

"We will bring the guilty to justice," Aznar said at a news conference one of his last before Sunday's general elections, which are going on as scheduled despite the attacks, although campaigning has been canceled.

Asian stock markets closed mostly lower and European shares were down in early trading Friday on renewed fears of terrorism.

"March 11, 2004, now holds its place in the history of infamy," Aznar said Thursday.

The attack occurred exactly 2 1/2 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and there 911 days in between the terror attacks in Madrid and those in New York and Washington. It also was Europe's worst terror attack since the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people.

The 10 backpack bombs exploded in a 15-minute span, starting about 7:39 a.m. on trains along nine miles of commuter line from Santa Eugenia to the Atocha terminal, a bustling hub for subway, commuter and long-distance trains just south of the famed Prado Museum. Police also found and detonated three other bombs.

The Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi said it had received a claim of responsibility issued in the name of al-Qaida. The e-mail claim, signed by the shadowy Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, was received at the newspaper's London offices and said the brigade's "death squad" had penetrated "one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain."

"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," said the claim, which could not immediately be verified.

Spain had backed the U.S.-led war on Iraq despite domestic opposition, and many al-Qaida-linked terrorists have been captured in Spain or were believed to have operated from here.

Spain's government is studying the claim but still believes ETA is more likely responsible, a senior official in Aznar's office said.

After police found a stolen van with seven detonators and the Arabic-language tape parked in a suburb near where the stricken trains originated, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said nothing was being ruled out.

The United States believes Al-Masri sometimes falsely claims to be acting on behalf of al-Qaida. The group took credit for blackouts in the United States and London last year.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Friday he could not confirm whether al-Qaida was involved.

"There is no specific information" available pointing to the identities of the attackers, he said on a visit to Thailand.

U.N. anti-terrorism chief Inocencio Arias said ETA was likely behind the bombings because they bore "all the fingerprints" of the militant organization.

"I would say it's ETA, but I cannot be sure. It has all the fingerprints of ETA," Arias, a Spaniard who chairs the U.N. Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee, told The Associated Press.

If the attack was carried out by ETA, it could signal a radical change of strategy for the group that has largely targeted police and politicians in its decades-long fight for a separate Basque homeland.

A top Basque politician, Arnold Otegi, denied ETA was behind the blasts and blamed "Arab resistance," noting Spain's support for the Iraq war.

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