131 People Killed in Madrid Explosions
MADRID, Spain - Powerful explosions rocked three Madrid train stations Thursday just three days before Spain's general elections, killing 131 rush-hour commuters and wounding more than 400 in what officials called the deadliest attack ever by the Basque separatist group ETA.
"This is a massacre," government spokesman Eduardo Zaplana said.
In the first attack of the year blamed on ETA, bombs exploded around 7:30 a.m. local time in a commuter train arriving at Atocha station, a bustling hub for subway, commuter and long-distance trains in Spain's capital.
Blasts also rocked trains or platforms at two stations on a commuter line leading to Atocha. The government said there were four blasts altogether.
People in tears streamed away from the station as rescue workers carried bodies covered in sheets of gold fabric. People with bloodied faces sat on curbs, using cellphones to tell loved ones they were alive. Hospitals appealed for blood donations. Buses had to be pressed into service as ambulances.
The attacks traumatized Spain on the eve of Sunday's general election.
The campaign was largely dominated by separatist tensions in regions like the Basque country, with both the ruling conservative Popular Party and the opposition Socialists ruling out talks with ETA.
But the Socialists came in for withering criticism because a politician linked to the Socialist-run government in the Catalonia region, which also has separatist sentiment, admitted meeting with ETA members in France in January. The Socialists were lambasted as allegely undermining Spain's fight against ETA.
Rescue workers were overwhelmed, said Enrique Sanchez, an ambulance driver who went to Santa Eugenia station, about six miles southeast of Atocha station.
"There was one carriage totally blown apart. People were scattered all over the platforms. I saw legs and arms. I won't forget this ever. I've seen horror."
Shards of twisted metal were scattered by rails in the Atocha station at the spot where an explosion severed a train in two.
"I saw many things explode in the air, I don't know, it was horrible," said Juani Fernandez, 50, a civil servant who was on the platform waiting to go to work.
"People started to scream and run, some bumping into each other and as we ran there was another explosion. I saw people with blood pouring from them, people on the ground," Fernandez said.
At least 131 people were killed and more than 400 were injured, said Pedro Calvo, the Madrid regional government's security affairs chief.
There was no claim of responsibility, but officials immediately blamed ETA. The toll would make Thursday the deadliest day ever in decades of attacks by ETA. Until now, the highest death toll was 21 killed in a supermarket blast in Barcelona in 1987.
Until Thursday, ETA had been blamed for more than 800 deaths in its decades-old campaign to carve an independent Basque homeland out of territory straddling northern Spain and southwest France.
Spanish officials had said ETA was against the ropes following the arrest last year of more than 150 members or collaborators in Spain and France, including the leaders of ETA's commando network
. Last year ETA killed three people, compared to 23 in 2000 and 15 in 2001.
ETA often phones in warnings before detonating bombs, but this time it did not, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said. The bombs went off at the peak of the morning rush hour. No arrests were reported.
"Those responsible for this tragedy will be arrested and they will pay very dearly for it," Acebes said at Atocha.
The government convened anti-ETA rallies nationwide for Friday evening.
"What a horror," said the Basque regional president, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, who insisted ETA does not represent the Basque people. "When ETA attacks, the Basque heart breaks into a thousand pieces," he said in the Basque capital Vitoria.
"This is one of those days that you don't want to live through," said opposition Socialist party spokesman Jesus Caldera. "ETA must be defeated," referring to the group as "those terrorists, those animals."
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the attacks terrorist atrocities and a "disgusting assault on the very principle of European democracy."
Straw said that Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder" with Spain and was ready to send any kind of material help needed.
Elsewhere, European Parliament President Pat Cox said the bomb attacks amounted to "a declaration of war on democracy."
"No more bombs, no more dead," Cox said in Spanish before a hushed legislature in Strasbourg, France. "It is an outrageous, unjustified and unjustifiable attack on the Spanish people and Spanish democracy."
Police had been on high alert for Basque separatist violence ahead of general elections Sunday, in which regional tensions and how to fight ETA have been key themes. Mariano Rajoy, the candidate for prime minister of the ruling conservative Popular Party, said he was calling off the rest of his campaign.
On Feb. 29, police intercepted a Madrid-bound van packed with more than 1,100 pounds of explosives, and blamed ETA. On Christmas Eve, police thwarted an attempted bombing at Chamartin, another Madrid rail station, and arrested two suspected ETA members.