Group goes to Spain despite attack

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NEW YORK -- Despite the 10 terrorist train bombings that rocked Madrid last week, Spain operator Skyline Travel said it planned to go ahead with a scheduled group departure to the city on March 15.

Liberal Lopes, president of Skyline, said the Huntington, N.Y.-based firm had not received any client requests for cancellations, although some clients had called with questions regarding security.

"I don't think [there's] any threat to tourists in the immediate future," said Lopes, who sits on the board of the 21-member Spain Tour Operators Association. "I fully understand that people might be nervous ... but I don't think there's any chance of anything [else happening] except, perhaps, the inconvenience of increased security and interruptions in rail transportation."

At least 190 people died and about 1,200 more were injured when 10 bombs exploded on commuter trains and in three Madrid train stations during the March 11 morning rush hour; local police later found and defused three more bombs.

The Spanish government immediately placed the blame on Basque separatist terror group ETA -- which had issued a communique last month warning of a campaign against the country's tourism industry -- but Basque nationalists denied the charge, and some speculated the attacks could be the work of Al Qaeda or other terrorists.

Lopes said an ETA attack, being local in nature, would prove less damaging to bookings from the U.S. than Al Qaeda activity.

"I have the impression that that [would] have less impact than if this was exterior terrorist activity," he said. "This is a far larger attack than ETA's ever done, but if I ventured to speculate, I'd say the signs do point to ETA."

Spanish tourist board Turespana had not released an official statement, but Julio Lopez, acting director, North America, at the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago, said, "Travel to Spain is still no riskier than travel to anywhere else in the world."

Flights were operating into Madrid, and some trains were running despite a police dragnet, dubbed "Operacion Jaula," or Operation Birdcage.

"Security measures in airports remain high as in the U.S., but there probably will be more security measures in train and metro stations," Lopez said.

Skyline clients, meanwhile, will make do, said Lopes. The group had been scheduled to take a train from Madrid to Seville this week but may instead have to be flown or bused between the cities.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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