Jan 4, 2007
MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Police Thursday seized a vehicle and nearby explosives that were ready for "immediate" use as a car bomb, just six days after the Basque separatist group ETA broke a cease-fire with a massive car bomb at Madrid's airport, a Basque regional government official told CNN.
The car and a nearby barrel with 100 kilos, or 220 pounds, of explosives were found near the city of Durango in the northern Basque region by Basque regional police. The bomb did not explode.
Saturday's attack ended a nine-month cease-fire that ETA had promised would be permanent, a move that had raised hopes for an end to nearly 40 years of ETA attacks blamed for more than 800 deaths and thousands of injuries.
At least one person was killed in the Madrid airport attack, the first fatality in an ETA attack in more than three years. Another man remains missing and feared dead in the airport attack.
A Basque police patrol checked a car on Thursday that had not been moved for some time in the village of Atxondo, near Durango, and saw a suspicious substance. They looked nearby and found the barrel of explosives, said the official from the regional government, which controls the nearly 8,000-strong Basque police force in northern Spain.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Thursday toured the wrecked parking garage at Madrid Barajas Airport's new Terminal 4, and told reporters, "Just a few days after this grave attack, the energy and determination I have to see the end of violence, to gain peace, is much greater."
Various analysts predicted greater police pressure on ETA after the airport bombing, and the Basque police seizure of the car bomb Thursday seemed to be the first step. It occurred in a hilly, heavily forested area that ETA in the past has used to hide explosives, an analyst told CNN.
Investigators were trying to determine if the car bomb was linked to a hidden cache of 50 kilos, or 110 pounds, of explosives that Basque police found on Dec. 23 in the nearby town of Amorebieta, the official told CNN.
Earlier Thursday, rescue workers recovered the body of a man found a day earlier in the rubble of the airport blast, an official with Madrid emergency services told CNN.
The body of Ecuadorean immigrant Carlos Alonso Palate, found in a car in the heavily damaged parking garage, was removed around 2:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), the emergency services official said.
The Socialist government Tuesday said the blast "broke, finished and liquidated" a cease-fire that ETA declared last March, after nearly a 40-year violent campaign for an independent Basque homeland.
Palate, 35, had remained in his car, apparently sleeping, Saturday while a companion went inside the terminal to pick up someone arriving on a flight.
The interior minister on Saturday said authorities received three warning calls, including one in the name of ETA, before the blast at 9 a.m. The caller described the garage location and the van that contained the powerful bomb.
Police rushed to clear the area and initially only about 20 people reported slight injuries after the blast, such as hearing problems.
But Palate and another Ecuadorean immigrant, Diego Armando Estacio, 19 -- who had also remained, separately, in his car in the garage -- were reported as missing by their family members hours after the attack.
Estacio is still being sought. Authorities said there is little chance of finding him alive, given the huge blast and the ensuing fire at the airport garage, which caved in.
The last previous fatalities in an ETA attack were two police officers killed in May 2003 near Pamplona. The long absence of fatalities had helped set the stage for the March 2006 ETA cease-fire announcement.
Zapatero -- whose government has acknowledged it was caught by surprise by the airport blast -- said Saturday the attack was "absolutely incompatible" with the cease-fire. He ordered an immediate "suspension" of government efforts to negotiate a permanent end to ETA's violent campaign for an independent Basque homeland.
The opposition conservative Popular Party immediately criticized Zapatero for not completely breaking off the peace process. After days of political bickering, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba acknowledged just that step on Tuesday, calling it "broken, finished and liquidated." He blamed the break entirely on ETA.
The conservatives and a leading ETA victims group have opposed the peace process from the start, arguing that it is impossible to negotiate with terrorists, whom they say must be beaten only with police and judicial action.
Rubalcaba said the government now aims to build a consensus, including with the conservatives, on how to proceed in the fight against ETA.
But leaders of the outlawed leftist Batasuna party, widely linked to ETA, on Wednesday repeated their stance, first mentioned Saturday, that the peace process for them was "not broken," despite the blast.
Spain's National Court on Thursday ordered that a Batasuna leader, Arnaldo Otegi, could not leave Spain -- he wanted to attend a conference -- because he might be called before a judge to explain his statements at a news conference after the airport blast.
Otegi is currently free on bail in another terrorism-related case at the court.
The government, with parliamentary backing, in 2005 had agreed to explore negotiations with ETA only if ETA demonstrated clearly that it was renouncing violence.