updated 12/24/2003 10:25:15 AM ET 2003-12-24T15:25:15

Spanish police foiled a plot by Basque separatists to detonate two powerful bombs aboard a train at a bustling Madrid railway station, officials said Wednesday.

Two suspected members of the armed separatist group ETA were arrested in towns in the Basque region, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.

One suspect was carrying a 55-pound bomb in a suitcase when he was arrested in San Sebastian.

Police then learned that a second suspect had placed another 55-pound bomb on a train traveling from the Basque city of San Sebastian to Madrid. Police stopped the train in northern Burgos and evacuated it before defusing the bomb, Acebes said.

That bomb was timed to detonate at about 4 p.m., when Madrid’s Chamartin station would be packed.

“With their action today the police averted a tragic consequence of the terrorist action of ETA,” Acebes said.

“This is ETA’s way of making its presence felt: Christmas Eve, 4 o’clock in the afternoon, 50 kilos of explosives at a station full of people that are going to travel to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas with their families.”

The suspect who planted the bomb was arrested in Hernani near San Sebastian.

Police also seized a timer, a pistol, a wig and ticket for the San Sebastian-Madrid train during the arrests.

Acebes would not elaborate on how police learned of the two suspects and their alleged plot.

ETA has been fighting since the late 1960s for an independent Basque homeland straddling northern Spain and southwest France. Its campaign of bombings and shootings has killed more than 800 people.

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