While world leaders strongly condemned Thursday's terrorist attacks in Madrid, experts said the bombings represented a new level of violence in Europe.
Madrid is in a state of shock.
The European Parliament unanimously declared March 11 as "European day for the victims of terrorism." Pat Cox, the parliament's president, said the bomb explosions in Madrid's train stations, which claimed at least 198 lives and left 1,400 injured, amounted to "a declaration of war on democracy."
The EU leader called for a minute's silence at the start of the parliament's legislative session Thursday and said the EU and Spanish flags would fly at half mast. "No more bombs, no more dead," Cox said in Spanish as Madrid's EU representatives were seen hugging each other during the president's emotional statement.
"It is an outrageous unjustified attack on the Spanish people and Spanish democracy," he said referring to the upcoming elections in Spain on Sunday, which the terrorists clearly tried to derail.
"Let Sunday show that Spanish democracy is determined to overcome terrorism," Cox said.
Despicable terror acts
His sentiments reflected those of other leaders around the world.
Referring to a possible connection to al Qaeda, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami denounced the attacks. "Such terrorist acts are not only in violation of the values and principles of divine religions, but also are strongly condemned and rejected by human society," he said.
Like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the attacks proved the need to combat terrorism globally. "As never before, it is vital to unite forces of the entire world community against terror," he said.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer expressed horror over the loss of so many lives. "These despicable terror acts that have claimed so many victims fill us with deep sadness and outrage," he said in a statement Thursday morning.
France, whose southern provinces have been included in ETA separatists plans for a cross-border independent Basque state, condemned the attacks with sharp words and offered Madrid solidarity in the fight against terror.
"France condemns with the greatest firmness the cowardly attacks. Terrorism in all its forms and from whatever source must be fought unflinchingly," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Terrorism in southern Europe
The attacks on commuter trains came exactly two and a half years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and were Europe's worst since the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie in Scotland, which killed 270 people.
The perpetrators of the Madrid attacks remained unknown Friday morning, with Basque terror group ETA and al Qaeda listed as possible suspects. But experts said the bombings clearly represented a new level of terrorism in Europe.
"Even though ETA has been partially wiped out, there is still a radical core that has survived and this core apparently has no qualms about killing mass numbers of people," said Joachim Krause, a security expert at Kiel University in northern Germany. "They've perhaps taken al Qaeda as a role model. They've seen that's how to get media attention."
The European Union lists the ETA as a terrorist group. The organization, which has been committed to an armed struggle for an independent Basque state since the 1960s, is responsible for more than 800 deaths. It has been linked to several bomb attacks in Madrid and the rest of the country, including a 1987 car bomb which killed 21 people in front of a crowded shopping center. The separatists have not stopped short of targeting foreign tourists, a significant source of national income. In February, ETA wrote an open letter to tourist organizations announcing it would expand its attacks on popular tourist destinations to year-round activity, rather than limiting itself to the summer months.