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Car bomb in Madrid kills high court judge

The blast, blamed on Basque separatists, kills three and injures 35. It is the worst attack since a cease-fire ended last year.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000


MADRID -- A car bomb exploded in a residential area of the capital Monday, killing a Supreme Court judge, his bodyguard and his driver in the deadliest attack blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA since it ended a 14-month cease-fire in December.

Thirty-five people were injured in the Madrid bombing, which tore holes in cars, shattered windows for blocks and left a haze of white smoke and burning debris scattered through the neighborhood.

The slain judge, 69-year-old Jose Francisco Querol, worked for a military section of the court. He held the rank of general and was due to retire next month, said the General Council of the Judiciary, a judicial oversight body. Also killed were his driver, Armando Medina Sanchez, and Jesus Escudero Garcia, a member of the national police force.

Although no group claimed responsibility for the blast, Spanish politicians and news media immediately blamed ETA. The group has repeatedly used car bombs as part of its 32-year-old campaign for an independent Basque homeland in an area straddling northern Spain and southwest France.

"This looks every bit like an ETA attack," Interior Ministry spokesman Fernando Delgado said.

"This morning we were again invaded by the pain of blind terrorism. ETA has caused a terrible attack in Madrid," King Juan Carlos said. "To the assassins goes our firm condemnation and the certainty that they will pay for their crimes sooner or later."

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar urged Spaniards not to despair over ETA's continuing violence and vowed to stand firm in his policy of combating the group through police measures rather than talks.

"It is clear that no one will achieve any kind of objective through the force of violence and that no one will make Spaniards yield to threats of guns, whoever may be holding them," said Aznar, who survived an ETA assassination attempt in 1995.

There was no word from ETA after Monday's attack. The group usually takes weeks to claim responsibility and often does so in communiques sent to a pro-independence Basque newspaper.

The attack came at 9:15 a.m. as people were going to work and children to school in the Arturo Soria area of northeastern Madrid.

As the judge drove past an intersection, another car parked at the spot and rigged with a bomb was detonated by remote control, police said. Querol lived in the area, and his wife and daughter heard the blast from their home.

A city bus waiting to turn into the intersection was severely damaged, and the driver suffered serious injuries. There were few passengers aboard, and none was seriously injured.

The explosion left smoldering cars and broken glass littering the street. It filled the air with thick, white smoke from burning garbage from six large trash bins on the corner where the bomb went off.

It shattered windows in apartment buildings for three blocks and knocked tiles off bathroom walls. Afterward, stunned residents and pedestrians cried, hugged each other and held hands.

"I was just waking up when I heard a tremendous explosion. It blew out my windows and I put my arms over my head," said 24-year-old Ricardo Villaverde, who lives in an apartment just above where the bomb exploded.

"The glass cut my face," he said. "I looked out the window and people were crazy and panicking in street."

The explosion took place 50 yards from a school. There were no immediate reports of children being injured. Police cordoned off the area for fear that another bomb may have been planted.

ETA has been blamed for some 800 killings since 1968, including 19 since it ended a 14-month cease-fire last December. The last attack blamed on ETA was Oct. 22, when a prison officer was killed by a bomb attached to his car in the Basque city of Vitoria.

The death toll in Monday's blast was the highest of any of the attacks since the cease-fire ended. Twice -- on Feb. 22 and Aug. 20 -- two people died in car bombings blamed on ETA.

As evening fell, hundreds of people opposed to ETA violence gathered in downtown Madrid to protest the attack. The rally began with five minutes of silence, interrupted when a man shouted in favor of Basque independence. Others punched him and struck him with placards; police intervened to protect him.

Similar demonstrations were held in the Basque cities of Vitoria, Bilbao and San Sebastian. A larger demonstration was planned for today in Madrid. A funeral ceremony for Monday's victims was to be held at the Supreme Court.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denounced those responsible for the car bombing, calling it a "cowardly and brutal attack."

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