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Since 1st March, 1999
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Spain wages war, at home and abroad
- Madrid ringleader dead
The building in the Madrid suburb of Leganes blown up by terrorists on Saturday. (AFP)

Leganes (Spain), April 4 (Reuters): The suspected Tunisian ringleader of last month’s Madrid train bombings blew himself up with at least three accomplices after police cornered them in a suburban Madrid apartment, officials said today.

Serhane ben Abdelmajid Farkhet, known as El Tunecino (The Tunisian), was one of several men who chanted defiant Islamic slogans in Arabic before detonating a charge that also killed a policeman, interior minister Angel Acebes said.

Two of the dead, Moroccans Abdennabi Kounjaa and Jamal Ahmidan, were also among six suspects being hunted in connection with the March 11 bombings of four commuter trains, which killed 191 people. Investigators say Ahmidan rented the run-down country house where the bombs were prepared. The belief he was among the dead was based on evidence such as witness testimony rather than forensic proof, a source said.

Acebes said the same group also planted a bomb, defused on Friday, that had been intended to derail a high-speed train.

Fifteen police officers were wounded by the explosion during last night’s raid in Leganes, a Madrid suburb, as a large explosives cache went off. “The core group of those who carried out the terrorist act have been detained or died in the collective suicide,” Acebes said, referring to the March 11 attacks. “We have to highlight the magnificent work done by the security forces.”

Fifteen people, mostly Moroccans, were already in custody.

Further attacks in the planning had been averted, Acebes said, even though two or three people may have escaped before the flat blew apart. Officials said a fifth corpse may have been found but could not be certain until DNA analysis was complete.

Police found 10 kg of dynamite in the apartment and 200 detonators of a type used in the Madrid bombings and in the device buried under the Madrid-Seville high-speed rail line on the eve of this week’s busy Easter holiday travel season.

The judge investigating the train bombings had identified the 35-year-old Farkhet as the “personal leader and coordinator” of the attacks, and Acebes has singled out the shadowy Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group as prime suspect.

Investigators are also searching for a possible mastermind who may have ordered the attacks from abroad with indications pointing to Islamist radicals sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network.

Two days after the Madrid bombings and on the eve of a general election, a videotape surfaced in which a purported al Qaida spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attacks and called them revenge for Spanish support of the war in Iraq.

The next day voters surprisingly threw out the pro-American conservatives and elected Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialists who have pledged to pull Spain’s 1,300 troops out of Iraq unless the UN takes charge there by June 30.

Zapatero and outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar were among the 350 mourners who attended a memorial for the dead police officer, 41-year-old Javier Torrontera, at the elite Special Operations Group’s base at Guadalajara, near Madrid.

Stunned Leganes residents watched today as trucks took out mounds of debris from the shattered building. “I can’t believe they were living here and none of us knew what they were up to. How disgusting. We feel indignant, afraid, helpless. None of us has forgotten March 11,” said Yolanda, a woman of about 50.

The suspects started shooting when they spotted police moving in and set off the explosion. “They shouted ‘God is great’ or something like that,” in Arabic just before the explosion, a police officer who took part in the assault told El Pais newspaper.

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