Bodies of two Spanish victims flown to Madrid

It was a sombre group which greeted the Spanish Hercules military aircraft as it touched down at Getafe Airforce base, on the…

It was a sombre group which greeted the Spanish Hercules military aircraft as it touched down at Getafe Airforce base, on the outskirts of Madrid, shortly before dawn yesterday. On board were the coffins of the two Spanish nationals killed in the Omagh bombing, 12-year-old Fernando Blasco and Ms Roco Abad (23), the final-year biology student who was spending her summer vacation working as a group monitor. The funerals took place in Madrid yesterday afternoon.

A second hospital plane landed later in the day carrying eight Spanish children injured in the bombing. They were seen off from Aldergrove airport by Mr Francisco Alvarez Cascos, the deputy Prime Minister, who had flown to Belfast on Sunday night. Four other Spanish children, too ill to travel, have remained in hospitals in Northern Ireland. One of the more seriously injured is 14-year-old Lucrecia Blasco, sister of the dead boy, who has received serious facial injuries which will require extensive plastic surgery. By a cruel coincidence, their father was seriously injured in an ETA bomb attack in Madrid six years ago.

The news that young Spanish children were among the victims of the bomb has caused great consternation in Spain, with radio programmes being interrupted to bring details of the atrocity. The Madrid daily newspaper El Pais devoted its first four pages to the news.

Many papers and television news bulletins carried graphic first-hand accounts of the bombing from the children themselves. Speaking from her hospital bed in the Royal Victoria Hospital, where she is being treated for serious facial injuries, Teresa Blanco (15), whose 14-year-old brother Gonzalo was also injured, said she remembered being moved along the street after the bomb warning and then waking up as she was being carried to an ambulance. "I could hear people screaming and I was covered in blood. I wanted to find my brother," she said.

More than 200,000 Spanish children travel abroad every year to learn English and other foreign languages. Ireland, with 40,000 students per year, is the second most popular destination after the UK, and the most popular for the under-15 age group. It is estimated that some 10,000 Spanish children are in Ireland during the summer months.

The party of schoolchildren visiting Omagh on Saturday were attending language courses in Donegal and had been taken on a day trip into Northern Ireland, with only a brief stop in Omagh. Mr Clodoaldo Casaseca, chairman of Aseproce, the association which organises student visits abroad, expressed his surprise that the group were visiting Northern Ireland.

"There are some places where they should not visit," he said bluntly, while the Spanish embassy in London also questioned the wisdom of crossing the Border into Northern Ireland with the children, describing it as "inopportune".

In an almost unprecedented move, Herri Batasuna, the political front for the terrorist movement ETA, issued a strong criticism of the attack. The HB statement expressed "pain and sympathy" for the victims and their families.

Three times in the communique it used the word atentado, a Spanish word which specifically denotes a terrorist attack and which the group has never yet used to describe ETA terrorist activity: "The atentado is the work of certain sectors opposed to dialogue who wish to destroy the peace process," they said. HB offered its congratulations on the "high degree of political maturity which is being demonstrated by many British and Irish political parties."