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Madrid Train Bombings Kill Over 190 Spanish Passengers

By Elaine Sciolino

The New York Times -- MADRID, Spain

Ten bombs ripped through four commuter trains in Madrid on Thursday, killing at least 192 people and wounding more than 1,400 in the deadliest terrorist attack on a European target since World War II.

Spanish authorities initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA. But after finding a van with detonaters and tape of Quranic verses near Madrid, they held open the possibility of militant Islamic terrorism.

A group claiming links to al-Qaeda took responsibility in a letter delivered to an Arab newspaper. An American counterterrorism official said the claim should be viewed skeptically.

Spain, a U.S. ally in the war on Iraq that has 1,300 troops stationed there, was explicitly threatened as a target in an audiotape reportedly made by Osama bin Laden last October.

As the country struggled to absorb the devastation three days before general elections, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said, “March 11 now has its place in the history of infamy.”

The bombings came in coordinated explosions that went off within a 10-minute period shortly before 8 a.m. as people headed to work and school. The police found and detonated three other bombs.

At the main Atocha commuter station in the heart of Madrid just a block from the Prado Museum, an explosion cut a train in two, sending pieces of metal high into the air. Bloody victims crawled from mangled train cars and staggered into the streets. Other victims were found burned to death in their seats.

There, as at the nearby Santa Eugenia and El Pozo stations, broken bodies and body parts were thrown along the platforms as rescue workers struggled to separate the dead from the wounded.

Amet Oulabid, a 23-year-old carpenter, said he got off the front of the train at the Atocha station just seconds before the bomb went off in one of its rear cars.

“I saw bodies flying,” he said. “There was a security guard dripping with blood. People were pushing and running. I saw a woman who had fallen on the tracks because people were pushing so hard. I escaped with my life by a hair.”

At El Pozo, just east of downtown Madrid, Luz Elena Bustos, 42, got off a nearby bus just 10 minutes before the explosion at that station.

“There were pieces of flesh and ribs all over the road,” she said. “There were ribs, brains all over. I never saw anything like this. The train was blown apart. I saw a lot of smoke, people running all over, crying. I saw part of a hand up to the elbow and a body without a head face down on the ground. Flesh all over. I started to cry from nerves. There was a 3-year-old boy all burnt and a father was holding him in his arms, crying.”

People combed the city’s major hospitals in search of family members believed aboard the trains.

“Oh, please, God, this can’t be happening,” said Carmen Gomez, 47, sobbing as she studied a patient list in vain, at Gregorio Maran/o/n hospital, seven hours after the terrorist attack. “How could a human being do this, how could a human being do this?”

Most of the victims were ordinary middle and working class people and university students commuting into Madrid, although children were also among the dead.