| A student’s painted hand with the ribbon of mourning during a demonstration in central Oviedo on Friday against the explosions in Madrid. (Reuters)
Madrid, March 12 (Reuters): Spain vowed today to follow every lead to hunt down the Madrid train bombers as all Europe waited on edge for word of whether Basque or Muslim militants were behind the bloodiest guerrilla attack on a European city.
Two days before a general election that he insisted would go ahead as planned, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar stuck to his initial accusation that Spain’s local Basque separatists killed 198 commuters and wounded nearly 1,500.
But fears that Islamists linked to al Qaida might have had a hand in the coordinated blitz put security forces on alert across the continent and beyond.
“No line of investigation will be ruled out,” Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said minutes before mourning Spaniards fell silent across the nation to honour the nearly 200 dead.
Aznar defended strongly, however, his government’s initial pointing of blame at Basque guerrilla group ETA.
“Why does the government think there may be evidence that leads us to the terrorist organisation we know so well here'” he asked, before citing recent foiled ETA plots and intelligence indicating the group was aiming at public transport targets.
“What did this terrorist organisation want when they tried to enter Madrid last week with 500 kilos of explosives' ... It’s a line of investigation any Spanish government that hasn’t lost its head has to follow. It’s the one we are following, and if there are other hypotheses, we’ll follow them too.”
Responsibility for yesterday’s attacks on packed commuter trains — which killed at least 198 people and also wounded 1,463 — could be crucial to the outcome of Sunday’s general election which is going ahead despite three days of mourning.
Washington said a letter claiming responsibility for al Qaida and threatening another September 11-style strike could be the “precursor” of another plot against America.
“We have succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance,” said the letter, a copy of which was faxed by London-based al-Quds newspaper to Reuters in Dubai.
No authentication was available of the letter attributed to the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a group aligned to al Qaida.
A radio report today said that backpack bombs used in the Madrid train bombings were set off by mobile phone and contained copper detonators, which are not generally used by the ETA. The detonator in an unexploded bomb recovered by police contained a copper detonator whereas detonators commonly used by ETA are made of aluminium, the report by private radio station Cadena Ser said.
Meanwhile Basque media today reported that the ETA has denied responsibility for the bombings. “An ETA message has arrived saying that it bore no responsibility for the attack,” a presenter for ETB Basque public television said. The Basque newspaper Gara also said on its website that it received a phone call from a person claiming to represent ETA saying it “had no responsibility” for the attacks.