- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 4, 2004

MADRID — Three suspects in the Madrid railway bombings blew themselves up yesterday in a building while surrounded by police, killing one special forces agent and wounding 11 police officers, the interior minister said.

The blast in Leganes, a southern suburb of Madrid, blew away part of the walls of the building. Police had earlier evacuated residents and cordoned off part of the town.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said a preliminary investigation indicated three terrorists had died, but he added the number had yet to be confirmed because of the damage to the bodies.

“The special police agents prepared to storm the building and when they started to execute the plan, the terrorists set off a powerful explosion, blowing themselves up,” Mr. Acebes said.

When the occupants of the building spotted the police, “they began firing and shouting and chanting in Arabic,” Reuters news agency quoted Mr. Acebes as saying.

“There are three that could have blown themselves up, but the possibility of more is not ruled out,” he said.

He said police believe some of the suspects may have carried out the March 11 train bombings that killed 191 persons and wounded more than 1,800.

Spain is holding 15 persons, many of them Moroccan, over the bombings. The investigation has focused on the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which has links to al Qaeda.

On Friday, police found a bomb under the tracks of a high-speed rail line 40 miles south of Madrid. Mr. Acebes said yesterday it was made of the same brand of explosive, Goma 2 Eco, that was used in the Madrid train attacks.

The bomb failed to detonate because it wasn’t properly wired, officials said.

“It’s the same type of explosive and it’s the same brand,” Mr. Acebes said of the 26-pound bomb. The bomb alert stopped six high-speed trains using the Madrid-Seville line.

Goma 2, often used for demolition and in mining, is relatively easy to get in Spain.

Authorities on Friday stepped up security on Spain’s entire rail network. Yesterday, soldiers, police and Civil Guard officers could be seen patrolling the targeted high-speed rail lines.

Because the bag containing the bomb was dry and the ground was wet, authorities believe it was placed at the scene Friday. A 450-foot-long cable was attached to the detonator.

The rail line where the bomb was found mainly serves Spain’s AVE bullet trains, which have a top speed of 190 mph, although some slower trains also use it.

The government has said it is focusing on the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, the forerunner of a group suspected of last year’s Casablanca bombings, which killed 45 persons, including 12 suicide bombers.

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported yesterday that the Spanish Embassy in Egypt received a letter from an Islamic militant group threatening new attacks if Spain did not withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the letter, the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, a group that also claimed responsibility for the March 11 attacks, threatened to strike against Spanish diplomatic missions in North Africa and the Mediterranean region unless Spanish troops are withdrawn in four weeks.

A Spanish diplomat in Cairo, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the embassy received a threatening letter signed by Abu Hafs after the commuter-train attacks last month.

The United States believes the Abu Hafs group lacks credibility and has only tenuous ties to al Qaeda. In the past, the group has claimed responsibility for events to which they were not connected — such as last summer’s blackouts in North America and Britain.

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