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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 17:58 GMT
ETA 'plotted skyscraper massacre'
Anti-ETA protest in Bilbao
The murder of a judge this week led to anti-ETA protests in Bilbao
The Spanish authorities have said the Basque separatist group, ETA, was planning to blow up the tallest building in the capital, Madrid, two years ago.

Spain's police chief, Juan Cotino, said the plot was confirmed during questioning of two ETA members, arrested in connection with a car-bomb explosion earlier this week.

They told police that ETA planned to attack the Picasso Tower, where around 5,000 people work.

He said the attack was planned for December 1999 to mark the resumption of violence by ETA after a 14-month ceasefire.

Christmas 'massacre'

That month, Spanish police intercepted two vans containing 1.7 tonnes of explosives.

It is very likely that the big target could have been the biggest building in Madrid

Basque journalist, Inigo Gurruchaga
The then interior minister said that ETA was planning what he called a "Christmas massacre" in Madrid.

Spanish police have come forward with numerous theories, but the intended target had remained unknown until now.

The 150m glass and steel tower, more than 40 storeys high, was built by the same architect who designed the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki.

It stands on Madrid's main thoroughfare, the Paseo de La Castellana.

The London correspondent for the Basque newspaper El Correo, Inigo Gurruchaga, said it was not unlikely that ETA would have wanted to break its ceasefire with an attack on a larger scale than usual.

Big target

"It would have been the equivalent of the IRA breaking its ceasefire with a bomb at Canary Wharf.

"We though that ETA was trying to copy the IRA step by step," he said.

"It is very likely that the big target could be the biggest building in Madrid."

The Madrid newspaper El Mundo reported in October 1999 that Basque separatists arrested in France for stealing eight tonnes of dynamite were plotting to blow up a building in Madrid.

The newspaper, quoting French investigators, said three members of ETA had instructions to destroy a high-profile building in Madrid in the middle of the night.

The Spanish Interior Ministry declined comment on the report at the time.

ETA is blamed for the killing of more than 800 people during its 33-year campaign seeking a Basque state in northern Spain.

The BBC's Flora Botsford
"Less than 24 hrs later, a judge shot dead in the Basque country"
See also:

07 Nov 01 | Europe
Spanish judge shot dead
06 Nov 01 | Europe
In pictures: Madrid car bomb
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