Over 170 Die in Bombings in Madrid, Spain

In the Spanish capital of Madrid, more than 170 people were killed today after a series of bombs attacks at three train stations during morning rush hour. At least 500 people were also wounded The Spanish government has blamed the Basque separatist group ETA for the attacks but no group has taken responsibility. ETA — whose initials stand for Basque Homeland and Freedom — have fought for independence for the Basque region of northeastern Spain for decades. If the bombing was the work of the ETA it marks by far the group’s largest attack. In 1987 a bombing at a supermarket in the Basque country killed 21 people. But a prominent Basque party leader that has been linked to ETA said the group was not behind the attacks. He suggested the "Arab resistance" may have carried out the attacks. The Basque official noted that ETA usually phones in warnings. There were no warnings before today’s attack. The bombings came three days before Spain’s elections on Sunday. The country’s political parties have suspended campaign for the elections. A government spokesperson described the bombings as an attack on Spanish democracy. The government has also declared three days of mourning. The Washington Post reports the attacks marks one of the largest terror attacks in Europe since the end of World War II.

U.S. Forces Hunting Al Qaeda-Linked Groups in Algeria

The Boston Globe is reporting that US special forces are now hunting for men connected to Al Qaeda in Algeria along the country’s southern border with Mali. The Globe reports the elite forces are trying to capture or assassinate members of an Islamic group known as Salafist Group for Call and Combat. A Pentagon official told the Globe the U.S. is also working with security officials in other North African countries including Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania.

Pentagon Expands U.S. Role In Haiti

This news from Haiti. The Pentagon announced Wednesday an expansion of the US mission in Haiti to allow U.S. Marines to start using armed force in an effort to restore order after a coup ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide. According to the Pentagon, U.S. forces have shot and killed four Haitians over the past week. Meanwhile former Haitian foreign minister Gerard Latortue returned to Haiti from Florida to become the country’s interim prime minister. Latortue fled Haiti in 1988 after a military coup. Also yesterday Aristide met with South Africa’s deputy foreign affairs minister, Aziz Pahad about seeking asylum in that country.

NYC Residents & Workers Sue EPA Over 9/11 Clean-up

Residents and workers in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn sued the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday accusing the agency of issuing misleading statements about the health effects of the collapse of the World Trade Center. The lawsuit said the EPA’s actions "left many thousands of individuals, adults and children alike, unnecessarily exposed to potentially hazardous levels of asbestos and possibly other carcinogens and toxic substances." Former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, is accused of having "a shockingly deliberate indifference to human health."

Russian Human Rights Group Protest Upcoming Election

In Russia, human rights groups have denounced Sunday’s presidential election as unfair and are accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating President Vladimir Putin’s re-election. Protesters are urging voters not to participate in the election with hopes that voter turnout will drop below the mandated 50 percent.

$5 Million Settlement Reached in Tulia Drug Sting

In Tulia Texas, a $5 million settlement has been reached between local officials and 46 people, mostly African-Americans, who were wrongly arrested on fabricated drug charges. In 1999 a singled undercover narcotics agent arrested over 10 percent of the town’s African-American population on made-up drug charges. All of the Tulia defendants were pardoned on August but not before some spent five years in jail. In addition to the $5 million settlement, officials agreed to disband a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force that carried out the arrests. The arresting officer Tom Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go to court in May to face perjury charges.

Kerry Reaches Out to Dean & Edwards

In campaign news Senator John Kerry met privately with former rival Howard Dean for the first time since the former Vermont governor dropped out of the presidential race. Dean did not officially endorse Kerry but he has vowed to back the Democratic nominee. Today Kerry is expected to meet with Senator John Edwards.

And The AFL-CIO voted yesterday to spend $44 million to mobilize union household voters in November against President Bush.

Meanwhile Republicans accused Kerry of running a mean-spirited campaign after he was caught on video saying "These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I have ever seen. It’s scary." A Kerry spokesperson said he was not referring directly to President Bush or Vice President Cheney but the "Republican attack machine."

The Associated Press is reporting that President Bush has hosted many of his top campaign donors to overnight stays at the White House and Camp David. Some of the guests stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom which gained fame during the Clinton years after it was alleged that Clinton was rewarding political donors by treating them to nights in the White House.

Israeli Troops Disguised As Palestinians Kill 5 in Jenin

This news from the Occupied Territories: five Palestinians were killed in Jenin after being shot by Israeli troops who entered Jenin disguised as Palestinians. Officials said the five men were members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. None of the Israelis were killed or injured.

US Defends Afghan Bombing That Killed 9

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military defended a December air strike that killed 10 people including nine children. The Pentagon refused to release a review of the bombing claiming it contained top-secret intelligence.

Dems Call For Special Prosecutor in Computer File Theft

On Capitol Hill, all nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee called on the Justice Department Wednesday to name a special prosecutor to investigate how Republican staffers accessed the computers of Democratic senators and downloaded over 4,000 internal computer files.

Pentagon Seeks To Expand Halliburton Investigation

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Pentagon has asked the Justice Department to join an inquiry into alleged fuel overcharging by Halliburton in Iraq. This indicated that Pentagon officials see possible grounds for criminal charges or civil penalties. The Justice Department also has the power to indict Halliburton officials and to press criminal fraud charges. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the House Government Reform committee today is holding its first-ever hearing on alleged Iraq contracting abuses.

Zimbabwe Detains 64 Mercenaries Staging Coup in Equatorial Guinea

In Zimbabwe, the government has detained 64 suspected mercenaries who had entered the country with plans to stage a coup in the African state of Equatorial Guinea. The BBC reports the mercenaries were Angolans, South Africans and Namibians.

Slurs Broadcast Over Chicago Fire Radios

The Chicago Fire Department is coming under intense criticism after it was revealed that a string of racial slurs were broadcast over the department’s radio system. One firefighter has already been suspended for 90 after being accused of making the first racial slur on Feb. 2. The Chicago City Council is urging firefighters to out who else uttered racial epithets. Amid the controversy a black fire battalion chief and city alderman received death threats.

U.S. Detains IMF Economist in Terror Mix-Up

U.S. officials admitted Wednesday it had accidentally detained a Spanish economist with the International Monetary Fund because his name matched an individual on a federal watch list. The economist, Alex Segura-Ubiergo, was returning from an official IMF mission overseas. After his plane landed at Dulles International Airport on Saturday, officials from the Department of Homeland Security boarded the plane, handcuffed him and then detained him for three hours before realizing they had the wrong man. After an hour of questioning, the man asked to make a phone call to his wife who was eight months pregnant, but he was not allowed. At the time he was carrying a special U.S. visa identifying him as an employee of an international organization and a United Nations passport issued for official travel as well as a Spanish passport. A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said "We apologize for the inconvenience. At the same time ... he came up as someone who was extremely dangerous." In an email to friends Segura-Ubiergo wrote "It will be hard for me to ever view the U.S. as 'home, sweet home' when coming back from a mission."


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