posted on Mar, 11 2004 @ 04:39 PM
No group made an immediate claim of responsibility for today's terrorist outrage in Madrid, but politicians and journalists blamed the Basque
separatist group Eta for the train bombings, which left 173 people dead.
The group - whose full name, Euskadi Ta Askatasuma, means Basque Homeland and Freedom - has been carrying out bombings and assassinations in Spain for
more than 35 years. The timing of the attack, 72 hours before Sunday's general election, would fit with the group's aim of disrupting the political
process in Madrid as part of its campaign for an independent Basque country straddling the Pyrenees and the French- Spanish border.
But Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of Eta's outlawed political wing, Batasuna, said he did not think the group was responsible, suggesting that "sectors
of Arab resistance" may have been behind the attacks. In reality, the way in which today's rush-hour bombings were carried out bears few
similarities with Eta's previous modus operandi.
The scale of the attacks is unprecedented in Spain and has led to speculation that al-Qaida may be responsible, perhaps because of Spain's support
for the US-led attack on Iraq last year. The blasts come a week after al-Qaida was blamed by the US for coordinated bombings in Iraq that caused
carnage and huge loss of life.
By contrast Eta has struggled to mount major attacks, resorting instead to car bombings and assassinations targeting politicians, members of the
security forces and journalists. The last time it targeted a railway was in 1979, when bombs at two Madrid stations left six people dead.
Eta's deadliest outrage - a supermarket bombing in Barcelona in 1987, killed 21 people and drew an apology from the group, which has generally given
warnings of imminent attacks in an attempt to minimise civilian casualties.
No warning was received today.
Today's attacks involved a series of 13 devices designed to explode almost simultaneously in a variety of locations around the capital. That again
would represent a departure for Eta, which has historically operated in small, highly independent cells.
Under relentless pursuit from the Spanish security forces, the group has increasingly struggled to coordinate attacks, being restricted to a series of
minor bombings in northern Spanish tourist towns last year. Meanwhile, the group has also become increasingly isolated, with Batasuna being outlawed
In that sense, a possible parallel could be drawn with the republican movement in Northern Ireland, where radical elements within the IRA lashed out
with uncharacteristically indiscriminate attacks - such as the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people - when the movement was backed politically
and militarily into a corner.
But such a scenario would make a mockery of claims by the Spanish prime minister, José María Aznar, that the country's security forces have severely
circumscribed Eta's ability to mount attacks in recent years by dismantling a series of cells and arresting key figures in the organisation. Security
had also been stepped up across the country in preparation for Sunday's general election.
Perhaps for such reasons, Spain's interior minister, Angel Acebes, appears to have stepped back from the government's initial line. Asked at a press
conference whether he believed Eta or an Islamic militant group such as al-Qaida was behind the bombings, he replied that Eta was still the prime
suspect, but added: "We do not rule anything out."