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Explosion rocks parking lot at Madrid airport

Smoke rises above one of the parking lots of Madrid's Barajas airport after an explosion
Smoke rises above one of the parking lots of Madrid’s Barajas airport after a car bomb explosion on Saturday.Susana Vera / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A car bomb exploded in a parking lot at Madrid’s glittery new airport terminal on Saturday, following a warning call from the Basque separatist group ETA, officials said. Three people were slightly wounded.

The blast halted all air traffic on one of the year’s busiest travel days, and brought a fiery end to an nine-month-old ETA cease-fire that had spurred the greatest hopes in a decade of a peaceful end to the conflict

The timing of the blast — just hours after the execution in Baghdad of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — caused initial fears that Islamic militants might be involved. But officials soon discounted that, saying that two warning calls were received in the Basque region just before the explosion.

In the second call, a man speaking in Spanish claimed responsibility for the separatists, the Basque Interior Department’s emergency rescue services said.

The blast came about 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET) at the airport’s new Terminal Four, said Javier Ayuso, a spokesman for the emergency rescue services of the Madrid city government.

“They started closing all the stores, which was the first indication there was a problem,” passenger Lisa Berry told NBC News.

Berry, who was traveling to Italy with her son, John, said there were “thousands” of people on the tarmac after the explosion, which she said appeared to be near a drop-off point. She said she could see two columns of smoke from the area.

Berry also said armed military personnel were stationed in front of the airport, along with several ambulances.

ETA declared a cease-fire in March after four decades of armed struggle for independence of the Basque Country in which it killed more than 800 people.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced in June that he would start a peace process with ETA but the group said in November that it would break off contacts unless there was quick progress in separate talks over the future of the Basque Country.