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Thursday, Mar. 11, 2004 It was the height of the rush hour. Passengers would have been contemplating how to vote in Sunday's general election. Then, without warning, four bombs blew a hole in Spain's March morning calm. More than 170 people were reported dead with at least 400 more injured, most of them at Madrid's Atocha station.
Spain's government immediately blamed the Basque separatist group ETA. Government spokesman Eduardo Zaplana described the bombings as "massacre," and described it as "an attack on Spanish democracy." ETA, he said, was "a criminal gang of killers."
Last December, Spanish authorities said they foiled a Basque separatist plot to blow up a train at a Madrid rail station and last month, two suspected ETA members were arrested as they drove to Madrid in a truck laden with explosives.
Spain's political parties have suspended campaigning for Sunday's poll, which will elect representatives from all over Spain, including the Basque region in the north. ETA had threatened attacks on tourist targets in the run up to the poll, but the latest attack was on a scale far larger than anything attributed to ETA in the past. For that reason, some commentators have speculated that other terror groups, including al Qaeda, may have been involved. Some fear that Spain's strong support for the United States in the run-up to war with Iraq could make her a target.
This was picked up by the leader of the banned Basque separatist party Batasuna, Arnald Otegi. He rejected claims that ETA could have been behind the attacks and instead pointed the finger at "the Arab resistance".
The government has declared three days of mourning for the victims and called on people to stage rallies on Friday evening to condemn the attacks. Messages of sympathy have come from all over the world