MADRID — Suspected Basque separatists set off a car bomb today that killed eight paramilitary civil guardsmen and injured at least 44 other people in apparent retaliation for the expulsion of an ETA leader from France, authorities said.
The bomb, planted in a parked van, ripped through a bus carrying about 50 civil guards from the Civil Guard Traffic School as it drove near a central square at 7:48 a.m. in a posh residential district, police and witnesses said.
"I heard a huge explosion, and when I looked around, I saw the bus blown to bits," a newspaper vendor at the site said.
Diego Cortes Valdes, a guardsman who was riding in the front of the bus next to the driver, told reporters that he had "no idea what happened, but the next minute I was standing, unhurt, next to the wrecked bus."
The injured included three passers-by and a street cleaner, who was reported in critical condition, hospital sources said.
Authorities sent out an urgent call for blood donations for the injured.
'Meant to Kill ... Many'
The van, which police said contained about 100 pounds of explosives, was hurled several yards in the air by the blast and landed in a garden.
"The car was packed with screws and chain links," a police official said. "The explosion was meant to kill as many people as possible."
He said a timing device triggered the bomb.
The blast also ripped into the front of a second bus carrying civil guardsmen and heavily damaged 12 cars parked in the area.
The blast shattered windows in buildings around the square and damaged ground-floor shops.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but authorities said they believe the attack was the work of ETA's Madrid-based "Spain commando," which killed five civil guardsmen April 28, hours after French police announced the arrest of the group's alleged leader, Domingo Iturbe Abasolo.
Authorities said today's attack may have been in retaliation for Iturbe's expulsion Saturday from France to Gabon, a former French colony in southwestern Africa. Police suspected him of being ETA's military commander.
ETA, a Basque-language acronym for Basque Homeland and Liberty, is fighting for a separate Basque homeland in northeast Spain.
28 Deaths This Year
A group of extreme rightists gathered at the site of the attack and shouted slogans against ETA and the Socialist government.
Today's deaths brought to 28 the number of victims of political violence in Spain this year.
A civil guard spokesman said "between 140 and 150" civil guards had been killed by ETA since 1968. So far this year, ETA has claimed responsibility for attacks that killed 16 people. Four ETA members have died in confrontations with police.
ETA's last attack in Madrid on June 18 killed three army men.