Partly made bomb found under a rail line in Spain

(The following article by Dale Fuchs was posted on the New York Times website on April 2.)

MADRID -- A partly assembled bomb containing 26 pounds of explosives was discovered Friday during a routine track check on a high-speed rail line linking the Spanish capital to Seville. The explosives were thought to be the same type as those used in the March 11 terror attacks in Madrid, officials said.

The device was dry and lacked an initiator, Spanish authorities said, leading investigators to suspect that it had been placed under the tracks on Friday morning and that the bombers had been interrupted while putting it together.

While not as sophisticated or powerful as the bombs in the coordinated Madrid attacks, the device would have been potent enough to cause the train to derail, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said.

A railroad patrolman found the package of explosives buried beneath the tracks near the town of Mocejón, about 30 miles south of Madrid, the interior minister, Ángel Acebes, said at a news conference. The package contained a detonator, more than 400 feet of cable and an explosive that investigators believe is Goma 2, the same as the one used in the commuter rail bombings that left 191 people dead in the Madrid attacks, he said.

The bomb was defused without incident, but it disrupted Easter holiday travel plans for thousands of people whose trains were canceled Friday, the start of the Holy Week celebrations and one of the busiest travel days of the year, a railway spokesman said.

It also cast a shadow on the official opening of a new legislative session, which began with a minute of silence for the bombing victims.

Already in a state of alert since the March bombings, the government has now called on the military, the police and the civil guard to beef up security in "sensitive areas," especially public transportation, Mr. Acebes said. The police, he added, are combing all high-speed tracks "kilometer by kilometer," while 45 helicopters watch from above and police dogs sniff for possible explosives below.

Investigators believe that the package was planted beneath the track sometime between 7:30 a.m., when the first round of checks were made, and 11 a.m., when the bomb was discovered, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. In that time, at least four trains may have passed over it, based on rail timetables.

The Interior Ministry said all rail lines were patrolled closely because of previous bomb threats by the Basque separatist group ETA.

This is not the first bomb scare since the terror attacks on March 11. On Thursday, the Interior Ministry announced that three letters containing explosive powder were sent to Spanish news media outlets, including a newspaper, La Razón, and a television station, Antena 3. The letter bombs were deactivated. At an earlier news conference on Friday, Mr. Acebes said that "anarchist groups" could be responsible for the mailings, but that the investigation would proceed "with caution," and that no group has been ruled out.

Earlier this week, Mr. Acebes confirmed that the investigation into the Madrid attacks pointed to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which authorities link to the suicide attacks last year in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.

Since the attacks, 24 people have been arrested, most of them Moroccan. A European arrest warrant has been issued for a Tunisian man believed to be the coordinator. The new bomb raises fears that the group remains active.

Monday, April 5, 2004

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