ETA bomb injures 17 on Navarre university campus

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Confusion over warning call prevented the evacuation of premises and averted a huge tragedy from taking place.

31 October 2008

MADRID - A powerful car bomb exploded Thursday outside the University of Navarre in northern Spain, injuring 17 students in an attack blamed on Basque terrorist group ETA.

The device, thought to be composed of between 80 and 100 kilograms of explosives, detonated shortly before 11am in a parking lot outside the university's main building and library as students sat in class.

Most of those hurt suffered slight injuries after being hit by flying glass. Authorities said a tragedy had been narrowly avoided after a warning call caused confusion over the location of the bomb.

A man, who claimed to be speaking in the name of ETA, phoned a roadside assistance service in the Basque capital Vitoria at 9.50am warning that a bomb packed into a white Peugeot car would go off "at the university campus" an hour later. Police assumed he was referring to the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria, which they duly evacuated while taking no action at the University of Navarre in Pamplona in the neighbouring region.

"Clearly, whoever placed the bomb gave a warning and either intentionally did not give all the information or made a mistake," Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said. "We could have suffered an enormous tragedy today at the University of Navarre."

ETA, which has killed more than 800 people since launching its terrorist campaign 40 years ago to demand Basque independence, has in recent times typically given prior warning before detonating bombs against civilian targets, but does not forewarn of attacks on the police, military or government institutions.

Fortunately, rain and cold weather meant most students and staff were inside the thick granite walls of the building when the bomb went off.

"There was a terrible bang and the foundations shook," said Jesús Tanco, a university administrator who was in his office located 50 meters from the parking lot when the bomb detonated. "It was a miracle no one was killed."

Spanish political leaders swiftly condemned the bombing. Speaking from El Salvador where he is attending the Iberoamerican Summit, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero described the attack as an act of "blind, criminal and fanatical violence." He said the full extent of the law would be used against those responsible.

The attack, the sixth by ETA against the University of Navarre since 1979, comes just two days after four suspected ETA members were arrested on evidence that they were planning an imminent attack in Navarre. The four, three of whom were detained in Pamplona and one in Valencia, were found in possession of more than 100 kilos of explosives, guns and a list of potential targets.

With that cell out of action, police were Thursday attempting to determine who was behind the university bombing, with some counterterrorism experts suggesting that the culprits were part of a stable ETA unit that had carried out other attacks in recent months.

ETA carried out its most recent fatal bombing on 21 September in Santoña in the northern Cantabria region, when it detonated a car bomb outside a military academy. Luis Conde, a 46-year-old non-commissioned officer, was killed. The group has killed seven people since breaking a ceasefire in December 2006.

[El Pais / A. Eatwell / Expatica]

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