Basque separatists were plotting an attack two years ago on Madrid’s tallest skyscraper, but the plan was foiled when Spanish police found two bomb-laden vans, national Police Chief Juan Cotino said Thursday.
When the car bombs were intercepted in northeastern Spain in December 1999, then-Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja said the ETA separatist group planned a “Christmas massacre” in Madrid.
Police only learned of the intended target this week during questioning of two suspects arrested in connection with a car bombing that injured nearly 100 people Tuesday in Madrid.
The ETA, an acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, has been blamed for the deaths of about 800 people since 1968 in its campaign to make the Basque region independent.
Madrid’s 43-story glass and steel Picasso Tower, an office building where 5,000 people work, closely resembles the destroyed World Trade Center towers and was designed by the same architect, Minoru Yamasaki.
On Dec. 20, 1999, police stopped one van headed for Madrid that was loaded with 1,980 pounds of a chlorine compound used in explosives, along with 110 pounds of dynamite. The discovery led investigators three days later to a similar van abandoned in a hotel parking lot in northeastern Spain. It was packed with 1,650 pounds of explosives and a timer.
Police had drawn blanks trying to figure out what the targets may have been until Ana Belen Egues, one of the ETA suspects detained Tuesday, “admitted that it was planned for the vans to be placed at the Picasso Tower,” Cotino said.
The police chief said the dynamite was probably stolen in France and smuggled into Spain.
The Madrid newspaper El Mundo reported in October 1999 that Basque separatists arrested in France for stealing eight tons of dynamite were plotting to blow up a building in Madrid.
The newspaper, quoting French authorities who monitor Basque separatists on French soil, said three members of the ETA had instructions to destroy a high-profile edifice in Madrid in the middle of the night, when there was less risk of killing or injuring people.
The daily newspaper ABC published a story Thursday citing police sources as saying the ETA intended to blow up the Picasso Tower at 8 p.m., the peak evening rush-hour period in Madrid.