Basque separatists blamed for car bomb

MADRID — A car bomb exploded Wednesday outside a regional television station in northern Spain following a warning call from the armed separatist group ETA, police said.

The blast caused significant damage and one person suffered an ear injury, television broadcaster EITB, which managed to stay on air despite the explosion at its headquarters in central Bilbao city, said in its early afternoon news report.

“They have tried to silence one of this country’s media outlets,” EITB director Bingen Zupiria told reporters outside the building later.

Police said the bomb exploded shortly after 11 a.m. local time. The building had been evacuated and the area cordoned off to traffic following a warning call to a fire department about an hour earlier.

Spain’s state-run television station broadcast footage showing the explosion. After a flash of fire, the blast blew out dozens of windows on the glass facade of the six-story building. Then a large plume of thick smoke rose up and partially obscured the damaged structure.

The attack came less than a month after the fatal shooting of a Basque businessman Dec. 3, for which ETA was blamed.

ETA has killed more than 825 people since 1968 in its campaign for Basque independence. The group declared a cease-fire in March 2006 that led to peace talks. But it broke the truce with a car bomb Dec. 30, 2006, at Madrid’s Barajas airport, killing two people.

“ETA can attack but it will lose all the battles,” Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Wednesday. “The only thing it will achieve will be to put the terrorists in jail quicker.”

Police in Bilbao said agents followed tips from the caller Wednesday and found the owner of the vehicle used in the attack tied to a tree in some woods just outside the city.

“This is an attack against all Basque society because this is public television paid for by people’s taxes,” Antonio Basagoiti, head of the regional chapter of the conservative opposition Popular Party, told reporters.

“ETA wants to pressure us in to accepting what they want: independence, socialism, backwardness and a return to the Stone Age,” Basagoiti said.

With a population of just under 1 million, Bilbao is the Basque region’s main city and home to one of the Guggenheim Museums.

The caller gave no reason for the attack but Basque regional government spokeswoman Miren Azkarate said, “EITB has been an ETA target for a long time.”

Several other media outlets are housed in the building, including a bureau of El Mundo newspaper.

Although most of ETA’s victims in the past have been security force members, the group has regularly targeted political parties, bank, businesses, public transport, as well as the media.

“There’s no point in reading anything special into this attack,” EITB editor Inigo Herze told Spain’s CNN+ television channel. “ETA attacks anyone that doesn’t believe in what it believes in.”

ETA has suffered a wave of arrests of its suspected members in recent months in France and Spain. Suspected leader, Aitzol Iriondo, was arrested in southern France on Dec. 8, three weeks after his alleged predecessor, Mikel de Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias Txeroki, was caught in the neighboring country.

AP reporter Harold Heckle contributed to this report from Madrid.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more