Last Updated: Sunday, 4 April, 2004, 02:31 GMT 03:31 UK
Madrid suspects killed in blast
A policeman and three men suspected of carrying out the Madrid train bombings have been killed in an explosion in a suburb of the Spanish capital.
Interior Minister Angel Acebes said the blast was set off by the suspects as police closed in on an apartment in Leganes, south of Madrid.
Eleven police officers were hurt in the blast, some of them seriously.
Police said they had been looking for three men in connection with the 11 March attacks on trains in Madrid.
"This is a very quiet neighbourhood... But it's places like this where these people try to hide"
"The special police agents prepared to storm the building and when they started to execute the plan, the terrorists set off a powerful explosion, blowing themselves up," Mr Acebes said.
"There are three that blew themselves up, but the possibility of more is not ruled out.
"Police believe some of the terrorists... could have been some sought by the security forces as the alleged perpetrators of the killings of March 11."
The BBC's Katya Adler in Madrid says the minister refused to identify the men, but Spanish media describe them as young Islamist militants of Moroccan origin.
'Chanting in Arabic'
Mr Acebes said the police operation began on Saturday, when security officers approached an apartment in a block in Leganes.
The suspects spotted them from a window and they "started shooting from the apartment, chanting in Arabic", he said.
Police then evacuated residents in the building and the surrounding area, and cordoned it off.
A team then re-entered the apartment block, on Irene Fernandez street.
Mr Acebes said it was at that point that the suspects set off a huge explosion in the apartment that the police were seeking to search, in an attempt to resist arrest.
Mr Acebes said it was possible a fourth person had escaped the area before it was cordoned off by police.
The blast reportedly blew away the brick building's roof and part of the outside wall.
Spain has been on high alert since the 11 March attacks
Eyewitnesses said the explosion sent a shower of shattered glass into the air and thick grey smoke billowed over the area.
Our correspondent says frightened residents crowded onto the nearby streets.
"This is a very quiet neighbourhood... But it's places like this where these people try to hide," a resident told Reuters news agency.
Some 20 families were put up in a hotel because they could not return to their damaged homes.
Police later lifted the cordon and traffic resumed, according to Spanish news agency Efe.
The operation came as part of the ongoing investigation into the 11 March attacks on four commuter trains in Madrid.
One hundred and ninety one people died in Europe's worst terror attack since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Islamist militants connected to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network are thought to have carried out the bombings.
Fifteen people have already been arrested in connection with the attacks.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Acebes said tests had confirmed that a bomb found on a high-speed railway line the day before contained the same explosive as the Madrid bombs.
But he added that it was still too soon to draw any conclusions about who planted the unexploded device.
Army vehicles and helicopters are patrolling key parts of the Spanish rail network following Friday's alert.