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SPAIN'S High Court has sentenced two members of the Basque separatist group ETA to 2775 years each in prison for a plot to plant bombs on a Madrid-bound train on Christmas Eve 2003.
ETA intended to warn authorities of the bombs after the inter-city train would have emptied in Madrid, court documents said.
But the court found the two men guilty of 184 attempted murders for endangering the passengers and crew.
The plot was later cited by officials who wrongly blamed ETA for the Madrid commuter train bombings that killed 191 people on March 11, 2004.
A three-judge panel sentenced ETA suspects Gorka Loran, 36, and Garikoitz Arruarte, 25, to 15 years for each of the 184 attempted murders and additional time for other charges, although they can only serve a maximum of 40 years under Spanish law.
The judges called it a "stroke of luck" that one suitcase bomb did not explode from the weight of other luggage placed on top of it. The timer was set for 4pm, when the train would have been empty in Madrid's Chamartin station.
"Had the explosion happened ... there was a high probability that everyone on the train would have died as well as a large number of (other) people would have been killed ... which the defendants were aware of," the 31-page sentencing report said.
Police arrested Arruarte before he boarded the train at its point of origin in the northern town of Irun with 25kg of dynamite in a suitcase.
That raised the suspicions of police, who stopped and evacuated the train when it arrived in Burgos, northern Spain.
Inside they found a second bag, planted by Loran, with 28kg of dynamite. Loran was detained at his home in the Basque region.
The conservative former government argued that if ETA was capable of planting the Christmas bombs it also could have caused last year's Madrid train bombings.
The Madrid massacre turned out to be the work of Islamist radicals, and the erroneous blaming of ETA helped lead to the Popular Party's defeat in elections three days later.
ETA, which is branded a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the US, has killed more than 800 people in its three-decade campaign for Basque independence.
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