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Doubts over identity of bombers

11 March 2004

MADRID –Speculation mounted Thursday over the identity of the group behind the deadly bomb attacks in Madrid.

The Spanish authorities have blamed the explosions on the Basque separatist group ETA.

But ETA has so far not claimed responsibility for the attacks.

It also did not make the usual warning calls before the bombs went off early

ETA has recently been seen as a weakened force.

Last year, only three people died in violent attacks by Basque nationalists – the lowest total for 30 years.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had claimed his government’s uncompromising stance against the group had crushed ETA.

But if the attacks do turn out to be the work of Basque extremists, recent official boasts that ETA was “in crisis” will be an embarrassing blow to Aznar.

Experts believe the bomb attack could be the work of ETA, which has planned train attacks before.

At Christmas, Spanish authorities foiled an earlier plot to blow up trains in Madrid, arresting two men and intercepting two bombs.

Spanish police estimate that the number of ETA activists has now declined to no more than 250, following a series of high-profile arrests of key members of the leadership.

However, the spokesman for the radical Basque separatist party Batasuna, which was banned by the Spanish Supreme Court almost exactly a year ago, has said he refuses to believe the attacks were carried out by ETA.

The party leader, Arnaldo Otegi, blamed what he called the “Arab resistance” for the bombings.

The use of simultaneous co-ordinated bomb attacks is also more a hallmark of the al-Qaeda network than of Basque violence.

Aznar’s strong support for the US-led war in Iraq could have exposed Spain to attack by Islamic extremist groups.

Al-Qaeda cells have been discovered in Spain in the past.

In November 2001, Spanish authorities arrested eight men suspected of being al-Qaeda operatives, one of whom reportedly had past links with Batasuna.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news