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Spain police find railway bomb

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- After a nearly 24-hour search, police found a small bomb along railway tracks in northeastern Spain, placed there by the two suspected Basque separatists who unsuccessfully tried to strike a major Madrid railroad station on Christmas Eve, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The two suspects, members of ETA, were arrested Wednesday in Spain's northern Basque region after one of them had allegedly placed a powerful bomb aboard a Madrid-bound train.

Police deactivated the bomb before it could explode at the Chamartin train station in Madrid, packed with holiday travelers, on Christmas Eve.

The same ETA suspects, under questioning, revealed that they had placed another bomb along railway tracks in northeastern Spain, said the Interior Ministry spokesman, who asked not to be identified.

Police on Christmas Day blocked off 12 kilometers (7 miles) of tracks, and about 24 hours later, at midday on Friday, found the bomb near the town of Samper de Calanda, in Teruel province. The bomb was in a cooking pot and had 2 kilos (4.5 pounds) of dynamite.

ETA is blamed for more than 800 killings in a 35-year fight for Basque independence and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, of which Spain is a member. ETA has tried Christmas attacks before in Spain.

The arrests of the two bomb suspects Wednesday came just two weeks after police in France arrested, on December 9, the suspected top military commander of the Basque separatist group ETA and three of his collaborators.

Officials said the four suspects detained in France had been the leaders of ETA's commando operational wing, which carries out attacks.

Spain's largest-circulation newspaper, El Pais, said in a December 26 editorial, "Although recently decapitated again and weakened organizationally and politically, ETA gives no truce. Not even on Christmas Eve."

On Friday, Spanish news media, citing police, reported that one of the ETA suspects, Gorka Loran Lafourcade, 25, who allegedly placed the bomb aboard the Madrid-bound train, was an elementary schoolteacher who had no prior police record for ETA-activities.

He was arrested Wednesday at his home in the Basque town of Hernani. Authorities told CNN that Loran put the suitcase bomb containing 20 kilos (44 pounds) of dynamite aboard the train bound from the northern Basque region to Madrid.

It was due to explode after the train arrived in Madrid, but police stopped the train in the provincial capital of Burgos, about halfway to Madrid, and deactivated the bomb.

The other suspect, Garikoitz Arruarte Santa Cruz, 24, was arrested Wednesday near the train station in San Sebastian, one of the train's early stops on its route to Madrid.

Police said he had a suitcase containing 28 kilos (61 pounds) of dynamite, which he was going to put aboard the same train, so that it would have two bombs timed to explode after the train's arrival in Madrid.

The third bomb from the same suspects was the one that police found on Friday along the rural railway tracks.

Police said the two suspects had also placed a fourth bomb along a different rural railway line near the northeastern city of Zaragoza. It was also timed to explode on Christmas Eve but actually exploded almost 24 hours earlier, on Tuesday night, causing no injuries but with some damage to the railroad, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

In another ETA development, police in southwestern France late Wednesday surprised various ETA suspects holding a meeting in a forest near Dax.

They fled but police soon after seized one of their abandoned cars and found inside it some 200 letters from ETA demanding extortion payments from businesses and individuals in northern Spain, in exchange for protection from ETA attacks against them, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

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