Explosion in Madrid; Basque separatists blamed

February 10, 2005

Logo of Basque separatist group ETA

At 8:30 am UTC yesterday a car bomb exploded in downtown Madrid, Spain, near the city's main convention center. The explosion occurred shortly before King Juan Carlos and Mexican President Vicente Fox, were due to open the ARCO art fair.

Forty-three persons were hurt, including 6 police officers. Reuters reports 24 were taken to the hospital, though none were seriously injured. The Juan Carlos I Convention Center suffered major damage to its facade from the blast.

Explosives experts estimated the size of the bomb between 20 and 30 kg (44-66 lb) of explosive material, according to Spain's Interior Minister José Antonio Alonso.

The blast is the most serious explosion in Spain since the March 11, 2004 al-Qaeda train bombings. It coincides with a police crack-down on the Basque separatist group ETA in the lead up to the Basque regional elections in April.

The Basque newspaper Gara received a warning from a caller claiming to be with the separatist group ETA half an hour before the blast, announcing that a car bomb would explode soon after.

ETA grew out of a call for action against Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. A Basque nationalist movement, ETA grew into a guerrilla force which, to date, is responsible for killing more than 800 people.

The goals of ETA are to force the creation of an independent Basque nation, including both the French and Spanish Basque regions. Initially, under the Franco dictatorship and during the transition periods following his death, ETA enjoyed widespread support in the Basque communities. With the increasing radicalism and violence of their methods, this popularity has waned, and organizations such as Gesto por la Paz (the Association for Peace in the Basque Country) now hold silent protests after ETA acts of terrorism.