ADRID, April 3 — Three men believed responsible for the Madrid train bombings blew themselves up inside an apartment building as the police prepared to assault the building on Saturday night, officials said. The blast also killed one officer and wounded at least 11 others.
The acting interior minister, Ángel Acebes, said the men, on spotting the special agents, shouted in Arabic and fired shots through the window of the building in Leganés, a working-class district of Madrid where many immigrants live. The police, who began the raid at about 6 p.m., vacated the surrounding apartment buildings and when they moved to storm the building, “the terrorists set off a powerful explosion, blowing themselves up,” Mr. Acebes said.
Among the dead, he said, were “some of the presumed authors” of the March 11 railway blasts that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,400. He declined to say whether one of the men was the Tunisian man labeled the “leader and coordinator” in an arrest warrant that was issued Thursday.
Immediately after the bombings, the government insisted that the Basque separatist group ETA had been responsible, despite mounting evidence pointing to an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda. Last week, however, Mr. Acebes said the investigation pointed to the Morrocan Islamic Combatant Group, which the authorities have linked to the suicide bombings last year in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.
The police operation came one day after a partially assembled bomb had been found beneath a high-speed rail line linking Madrid to Seville. The explosives, Goma 2, were the same as those used in the March 11 attacks, officials said Saturday. The bomb could not explode — officials say the person who planted it might have been scared off while doing so — but it prompted the government to send in the army to help guard the tracks.
A headline in Saturday’s El País, the country’s leading daily, read: “The police and Civilian Guard suspect that al Qaeda will try to attack again: `sleeping’ cells are using the infrastructure already in place in Spain.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., Spanish police have arrested dozens of men suspected of belonging to a Spanish cell of Al Qaeda. An investigative judge, Baltasar Garzón, indicted 35 of them in September — including Osama bin Laden — in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. His sweeping indictment claimed that the Sept. 11 attacks were planned on Spanish soil, citing a meeting in Taragona, which Mohamed Atta attended.
One of the men whom the authorities believe is responsible for the Madrid bombings, Jamal Zougam, appears in Judge Garzón’s indictment for his links to the supposed leader of the Spanish Qaeda cell. Mr. Zougam was not charged Judge Garzón’s indictment.
Spanish media had widely reported that Mr. Zougam was the mastermind of the Madrid bombings. This week, however, a Spanish high court judge, Juan del Olmo, issued a European arrest warrant for a Tunisian man considered “the leader and coordinator” of the attacks. According to the warrant, Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet was a “catalyzing agent” who “raised awareness of jihad” among his circle. He had “had manifested specifically since 2003 that he was preparing a violent act in Spain, specifically in the Madrid area,” the warrant said.
Spanish media say Mr. Abdelmajid was a resident of Madrid who worked as a real estate agent and lived in a middle-class neighborhood.
The judge issued five other European arrest warrants, all for Moroccans. Their pictures were published immediately in newspapers throughout the country. One of the men wanted, Said Berraj, is “supposedly linked to Al Qaeda based on a meeting held in October 2000 in Istanbul with three other presumed members of Al Qaeda,” the warrant said.
Since the bombings, 24 people have been arrested and 14 sent to jail, the majority of them Moroccans or Spanish residents of Moroccan origin. This is the first time, however, that the Spanish authorities have attempted a raid of this scale..
Many details of the operation remain unclear, such as how many agents were involved and why, after three weeks of quiet arrests and questioning, the authorities decided to change tactics with a full-blown assault. The acting interior minister said it was too early to tell, moreover, whether other men believed to be involved in the bombing were present in the Leganés apartment building when the explosion occurred, or whether anyone had escaped. The blast gutted the lower floor and tore off the roof of the building, Mr. Acebes said.