Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Spain on edge after new threat

`RIVERS OF BLOOD' A letter received by a Spanish newspaper, the author of which claimed to be an al Qaeda operative, sent jitters through a country beseiged by terror

REUTERS , MADRID

The Spanish government called for calm as troops and police patrolled potential targets after a series of bombings and a purported al-Qaeda threat to create rivers of blood in Spain.

Frontpage newspaper pictures yesterday showed combat troops guarding a dam, adding to the feeling of a country under siege.

Police were deployed on Madrid's metro on Monday, a job normally left to private guards, and troops were dotted along the route of the high-speed Madrid-Seville rail line that was the target of a foiled bomb attack last week.

Spain has ramped up security since 191 people were killed when suspected Islamic militants bombed four commuter trains in Madrid on March 11.

Up to six of the suspected train bombers blew themselves up on Saturday during a police siege in a suburb of the city, killing one police officer.

The government says they had been planning further attacks.

Police, who returned to the site yesterday to continue the search for clues and remains, say a handful of accomplices remain at large.

"There could have been a series of Holy Week bombings, probably starting this weekend," a source close to the investigation said, adding that police were unsure how much of an arsenal remained in the fugitives' hands.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes tried to reassure people.

"We must all maintain the greatest calm and allow the security forces to act," Acebes said on state radio on Monday, adding there had been "quite a few false alarms" during the day. "All possible measures have been taken in places considered especially sensitive. There is a big deployment of security forces, including Civil Guard, national police and the army."

Investigators are analyzing a letter purportedly from the militant al-Qaeda network to ABC newspaper threatening more bombs unless Spain withdraws troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If our demands are not satisfied, we declare war and we swear by Almighty God that we will turn your country into an inferno and we will make blood flow like rivers," the letter said, according to an ABC Spanish translation.

The Interior Ministry said it gave some credence to the letter, and ABC said yesterday that police were comparing it with documents found in the apartment raided on Saturday to compare handwriting.

El Mundo said police had found two machineguns in the apartment of the same type as those carried by militants in a video claiming responsibility for the train attacks.

Spanish authorities announced another arrest in the Madrid train bombings on Monday. Sixteen people are now in custody.

The militants who blew themselves up as police surrounded their apartment in the suburb of Leganes included at least three named on international arrest warrants for the March 11 attacks.

El Mundo newspaper said one of them, dubbed "El Tunecino" (The Tunisian), had been reported to police by his landlord on March 8 after he disappeared without paying his rent.

"The police told me they couldn't do anything, his papers were in order," it quoted the landlord as saying.

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