198 killed in Madrid blasts

World leaders condemned the attack as an assault on democracy, coming just three days before Spanish general elections scheduled for Sunday.

The Government has announced three days of mourning over the atrocity and election campaigns were halted early, although the elections will go ahead.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said there was “no doubt” the separatist Basque group ETA, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US and EU, was behind the attack.

The group has been held responsible for more than 800 deaths over a nearly four-decade violent campaign for an independent homeland in northern Spain.

However, Mr Acebes says the government has not excluded the possibility that Islamic terrorists carried out the attacks, after police discovered a van in Madrid containing detonators and a tape in Arabic.

The banned Basque political party Batasuna, denied ETA militants were involved, instead blaming “Arab resistance”.

Batasuna party leader Arnaldo Otegi highlighted Spain’s role in the US-led occupation of Iraq, which has already drawn warnings of revenge attacks from al-Qaeda.

Mr Acebes says a total of 10 bombs exploded within minutes of each other in and around three railway stations in the southeast of the capital, starting at around 7:30am (local time) when trains were packed with suburban commuters.

Another three devices were found and set off in controlled explosions.

A Spanish anti-terrorist official says the explosive in the attacks was dynamite, commonly used by ETA militants.

He added that the devices appeared to have been on timers and some may have been placed in the train wagons themselves.

Scenes of carnage followed the blasts, with emergency workers attending to critically injured passengers and hauling away bodies to a makeshift morgue.

“The coach behind mine was packed with bodies. Some people were burnt in their seats,” said one passenger who survived, Antonio Villacanas.

“There were people like me going to school. It was a strange sensation. I can’t explain the feeling, dead people all around,” said a student at Atocha station.

Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia visited survivors in hospital.

A spokesman for the royal household said the monarch would make a statement later on Thursday.

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