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Aznar Says He Told Truth About Madrid Bombings

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar denies he blamed the Basque separatist group ETA for the March 11 train bombings in Madrid in an attempt to ensure his party's re-election three days later. Mr. Aznar appeared Monday before a Spanish parliamentary committee that is investigating the attacks.

Mr. Aznar was combative as he refuted charges by left-wing lawmakers that he misled the Spanish people in the aftermath of the bombings by fingering ETA as the culprit, even after evidence emerged that Islamic extremists were responsible for the attacks.

The former Spanish leader told the parliamentary committee dominated by the Socialists who ousted his own Popular Party in elections three days after the bombings, that all the evidence at his disposal immediately after the attacks pointed to ETA.

Mr. Aznar said the intelligence services of other countries also saw the Basque group as the prime suspect.

"Government leaders whom I spoke with at the time of the attack told me that, based on the information that they received from their own intelligence, they concluded that ETA was responsible for the attack," he said.

Mr. Aznar also said that officials of the Socialist Party and the Basque regional government had immediately blamed ETA for the attack, which killed 191 people and injured more that 1,800.

Mr. Aznar's critics say he purposely continued to blame ETA because he feared that the disclosure of any Islamic link to the bombings would undermine his party's electoral chances. The bombers, in justifying their attacks, claimed they were seeking revenge for Mr. Aznar's support for the Iraq War, a policy that was overwhelmingly opposed by the Spanish public.

Mr. Aznar says he is convinced that the terrorists sought not only to kill as many people as possible but also to oust his government from power.

The Socialists resent any claim that their surprise electoral victory was due to the terrorist attack and accuse Mr. Aznar of trying to destabilize their government.

But the former prime minister says the Socialists and their allies continue trying to discredit his government by insisting that it had not told the truth about the bombings.