MADRID — A car bomb believed planted by Basque separatists destroyed a passing military minibus here Thursday, killing its five occupants and wounding seven people on the street and in nearby buildings.
The blast came several days after reports that the separatist group ETA was preparing to stop attacks for several months in hopes of promoting negotiations. Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez has repeatedly insisted that the attackers lay down their arms before talks begin between the government and ETA, an acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom.
Three army officers, one soldier and a civilian employee died in Thursday's explosion, Defense Minister Julian Garcia Vargas announced.
Moments after the blast, the area was filled with acrid smoke, broken glass and screaming people, resident Ivan Calabuig said.
"Everybody was completely hysterical," he said. "I saw two cars completely destroyed. . . . It had people inside--actually it was just pieces of people."
Police estimated that the bomb, believed to have been detonated remotely, was made up of nearly 90 pounds of explosives and shrapnel.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. But ETA has killed 10 people this year and nearly 700 since 1968, when it began its campaign to win independence for the northern, three-province Basque region.
ETA garnered sympathy in its early years when Gen. Francisco Franco was still in power and was repressing Basque culture and nationalism. It has steadily lost support since Franco's death in 1975 paved the way for democracy.
Police in the northern Basque province of Vizcaya announced the arrest Thursday of two suspected ETA members, bringing to 29 the number detained in a sweep that began a week ago.