ETA, al-Qaeda linked to attack

A statement attributed to Osama bin Laden’s terror group has been sent to the London-based newspaper Al-Quda Al-Arabi to claim responsibility for the bombings and a suicide attack on a Masonic lodge in Istanbul two days earlier.

The claim has not been independently verified, but it came just as Spanish officials said they have found seven detonators and a tape in Arabic in a van that may be linked to the blasts which have killed 190 people.

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said the van was found near Madrid and that the tape contained recordings of verses from the Koran.

Mr Acebes said the authorities are not ruling out any lines of investigation into the bomb blasts on four packed commuter trains that killed 190 people and injured 1,247 others.

“The conclusion of this morning that pointed to the terrorist organisation [ETA] right now is still the main line of investigation,” he said.

“But I have given the security forces instructions not to rule out anything.”

Earlier, Mr Acebes had said there was “no doubt” the Basque separatist group ETA was responsible for the attacks.

He said the Koranic verses were those “usually used to teach the Koran” and he left open the possibility that the tape might have been planted to mislead authorities.

The van had been stolen from the southern town of Alcala de Henares, which was the point of origin for the four trains targeted in the bomb attacks, Mr Acebes said.

Officials had earlier brushed aside suggestions that Muslim militants angry at Spain’s support for the US-led war in Iraq could have planted the bombs.

The blasts – which come three days before Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s Government faces national elections – triggered fears in world financial markets that al-Qaeda was responsible.

US intelligence agencies said it is too early to say who was responsible but that they see the hallmarks of both ETA and al-Qaeda.

The radical Basque party, Batasuna, accused by the Government of being an integral part of ETA, said it “absolutely rejected” the attack and was convinced ETA was not responsible.

ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna) has killed about 850 people since 1968 in its fight for a separate Basque homeland in north-western Spain and south-western France, and has been branded a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

If the Basque group was responsible for the bombings, it would be its deadliest attack, far exceeding the 21 people it killed in a supermarket blast in Barcelona in 1987.

Some experts on ETA said the bombings did not fit the group’s usual profile for attacks. ETA has frequently warned of its attacks in advance.

In October, two audio tapes purportedly from bin Laden said the al-Qaeda had the “right to respond at any suitable time and place” against countries backing Washington over Iraq.

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