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Explosives intercepted in Spain

By CNN Bureau Chief Al Goodman


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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish police Sunday seized more than 1,000 pounds of explosives and arrested two suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA who were planning to carry out an imminent attack in Madrid, an official said.

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Angel Acebes

Civil Guards stopped the men, each of whom was driving a van, in the village of Caņaveras in Cuenca Province just east of the capital city of Madrid at 2 a.m., Interior Minister Angel Acebes told reporters.

The explosives were found in the second van, which had been readied as a car bomb, the minister said.

"The Civil Guard has prevented a tragedy. It would have been a very serious explosion, enough to make a crater of 35 meters and a blast force extending 1.5 kilometers," Acebes said, citing the opinions of explosives experts.

Acebes added that the arrests occurred as the result of police investigations into ETA, which has been beaten back by a series of arrests in recent months. ETA was blamed for three killings last year, its lowest death count in 30 years, except for a period of a 14-month cease-fire that ended in late 1999.

Police last year arrested nearly 200 ETA suspects, mainly in Spain but also in France. Police said they prevented the bombing in a train station in Madrid last Christmas Eve, arresting the alleged plotters and seizing those who were planning to carry out the attack hours before it was to have taken place, Acebes said.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told CNN the two vans were stolen late last year in France. The first vehicle was being used by ETA as a lookout vehicle and the second van contained 30 kilos of dynamite, 506 kilos of another explosive, cloratita, and a timer that had not been connected. The total of 536 kilos is equivalent to 1,182 pounds.

The two men arrested were Spanish nationals, each about 25 years old, but with no police record linking them to ETA, the spokesman said.

The spokesman told CNN that the attack could have been planned to take place as early as Sunday or as late as 72 hours in an attempt to disrupt the campaign ahead of the March 14 national elections for parliament and prime minister.

The ruling conservative Popular Party, led by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, is leading in the polls. Aznar is not running for a third term, but his handpicked successor Mariano Rajoy is leading the conservatives, who have taken a hard-line stance against ETA.


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