Madrid Train Blasts Kill at Least 190

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By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 12, 2004

MADRID, March 11 -- Ten nearly simultaneous explosions tore through four packed commuter trains in Madrid during rush hour Thursday morning, killing at least 190 people and wounding nearly 1,500 in the worst terrorist attack in modern Spanish history, three days before national elections.

The explosives were placed in backpacks and left aboard trains and on tracks at three stations. Witnesses describing the scenes of chaos and carnage said they heard multiple explosions at the city's busy Atocha station, which sent passengers scrambling in a panic. A makeshift emergency hospital was set up alongside the tracks at the station, just south of the Prado Museum. Buses were hurriedly converted into ambulances. The walking wounded were asked to make it to hospitals on their own, and leave vehicles available for the more severely injured.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar called the attacks "a mass murder" and compared them to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes in the United States. "March 11, 2004, now occupies a place in the history of infamy," he said.

Government officials and the media immediately blamed the attacks on the Basque separatist group ETA, which has fought for more than 30 years against the Spanish government.

Later Thursday, however, the Spanish interior minister, Angel Acebes, said the government was investigating a possible link to Islamic extremists after a van was discovered on the outskirts of Madrid carrying seven detonator caps and a cassette tape in Arabic containing verses from the Koran. The van was parked in the town of Alcala de Henares about 15 miles east of Madrid, where at least three of the targeted trains originated.

"I have given our security forces instructions not to rule out anything," Acebes said, adding that he still considered ETA the principal suspect.


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