MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish police have foiled an attempt by suspected Basque separatists to blow up a train in a main Madrid station on Christmas Eve, one of the busiest travel days of the year, the interior minister says.
Police arrested a man carrying an explosives-packed suitcase and a ticket to Madrid as he headed for the station in the northern city of San Sebastian on Wednesday, just before a Madrid-bound train was due to leave, an interior ministry source said.
They then discovered that another suspected member of Basque separatist group ETA had already planted a case with more than 20 kg (44 lbs) of explosives on that Madrid-bound train.
About three hours after the first arrest they stopped and evacuated the train and arrested the second suspect in a flat in the ETA stronghold town of Hernani.
The explosives on the train were set to go off at 3:55 p.m. (1455 GMT), Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a news conference.
“This is ETA’s way of making itself known: on the day of Christmas Eve at four in the afternoon, 50 kilos of explosives in a station full of people who are travelling home to spend…Christmas with their families,” he said.
ETA, which has killed nearly 850 people in its campaign for an independent Basque state since 1968, has attempted to stage Christmas bomb attacks in the capital before.
In 1999 civil guards stopped two vans, each carrying about a tonne of explosive, which police said were destined for Madrid.
Last December two suspected ETA members were arrested as they drove 130 kg (286 lbs) of explosives towards Madrid.
Security forces in Spain and France have arrested almost 180 suspected ETA members this year, while the French earlier this month seized a man described as the top military commander.