Blood on the tracks
Spain continues to reap the whirlwind. From Reuters:
Shooting and an explosion were heard on Saturday in a Madrid suburb where police were hunting for suspects in last month’s Madrid train bombings, Spanish media reports said.
A Reuters photographer at the scene heard the explosion and said a number of ambulances rushed to the scene.
An Interior Ministry source confirmed an operation was under way in the southwestern Madrid suburb of Leganes to hunt for suspects in the suspected al Qaeda-linked train bombings on March 11 that killed 191 people.
The source declined to provide further details.
News agency Europa Press said police were trying to arrest three people who had taken refuge in a block of flats.
State radio said the explosion was a “controlled” one but there was no immediate confirmation.
It said about 40 homes in the area were evacuated.
Spain is holding 15 people, many of them Moroccan, over the March 11 commuter train bombings.
Interior Minister Angel Acebes said earlier that a bomb found on a Spanish high-speed rail track on Friday contained the same explosive and may have a similar detonator to the bombs that blew up four commuter trains last month.
The government refused to put the blame on any group for Friday’s bomb but the reported similarities between the bombs led Spanish media to conclude that Spain may have narrowly escaped another mass killing at the hands of Islamic militants.
“We see how the terrorist threat is a serious and real threat and all efforts to combat it every day…are absolutely essential,” Acebes told a news conference.
High-speed trains from Madrid to the southern Spanish city of Seville began running again on Saturday after the 12-kg (26-lb) bomb found on the line on Friday was defused.
A plan was put in place to guard the line with police and army backed by helicopters and armored vehicles, but passengers were nervous, fearing Islamic extremists could strike again.
“It always affects you. You can’t be calm. Everything seems fairly under control … but there could have been another March 11 yesterday,” said 40-year-old chemist Jose Antonio Perez.
Trains which would normally have been packed with travelers leaving town for the Holy Week holiday had lots of empty seats.
Acebes said the dynamite in Friday’s bomb was of the same Goma 2 Eco make as that used on March 11 and said it was possible that the type of detonator could be common to both.
However, officials cautioned that both the explosives and detonators are widely used in mining.
Investigators believe extremists planned to derail a high-speed train in an attack that might have killed hundreds of people.
Acebes has said the radical Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group is the main suspect in the March 11 bombings, but he threw no light on who might be responsible for Friday’s bomb.
“The investigation is beginning and so it would be very hasty to say any organization was responsible for yesterday,” he said when asked if it could be the shadowy Moroccan group, which is believed to be tied to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.
Spanish newspapers were less cautious, saying the evidence pointed to Islamic militants in both cases.
El Pais newspaper reported that Spain is the main al Qaeda base in Europe and said police believed al Qaeda could strike again here.
Many have speculated that Spain could be a target for attack by Islamic militants because of its strong support for U.S. policy on Iraq under outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
But Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who takes office later this month after his upset victory in elections held three days after the Madrid bombs, has pledged to bring 1,300 Spanish troops home from Iraq if the United Nations does not take charge there by the end of June.
Several newspapers reported that the Spanish embassy in Egypt had recently received a letter signed by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades and al Qaeda threatening to attack embassies, consulates and other Spanish interests in north Africa and the southern and eastern Mediterranean region.