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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Madrid Ringleader Blows Himself Up

MADRID -- The ringleader of the Madrid terrorist attack blew himself up along with three other suspects as police prepared to storm their apartment, Spain's Interior Minister Angel Acebes said Sunday.

The group had explosives ready for more attacks, he added.

Acebes said the four who died Saturday night included a Tunisian named Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, described by Spanish authorities as the leader of the group suspected of carrying out the March 11 attacks that killed 191 people.

"The core of the group that carried out the attacks is either arrested or dead in yesterday's collective suicide, including the head of the operative commando," Acebes told a news conference.

He said two or three people may have escaped before the explosion. The probe into the March 11 attacks will now focus on what connections the bombers may have had abroad or with other terrorist groups, Acebes said.

Fakhet was one of six men for whom international arrest warrants had been issued after the attack. Another man on that list, Abdennabi Kounjaa, a Moroccan, was identified as among the four who died Saturday night. A third man -- Asri Rifaat Anouar, was not on the list. The fourth suspect has not been identified, Acebes said. One of the dead bombers was found with an explosives-laden belt around his body, he said.

Police found 200 detonators of the kind used in the March 11 attacks and in a bomb that was placed along a high speed rail line Friday but failed to detonate, Acebes said.

Police also found 10 kilograms of dynamite in the apartment where the four terrorists blew themselves up, Acebes said.

"They were going to keep on attacking because some of the explosives were prepared, packed and connected to detonators," Acebes said. As police prepared to storm that apartment in Leganes, south of Madrid, the suicide terrorists set off a thundering blast that also killed a special-operations officer and wounded 15 other policemen.

The blast gutted at least one floor of the building -- a square structure with a central courtyard where children had been playing soccer until they were evacuated. The explosion sent up a huge plume of black smoke and revealed rooms littered with concrete and wires dangling from ceilings. Architects will now decide whether it is to be demolished altogether because of structural damage.

Police had approached the building at around 7 p.m. to make arrests as part of an escalating manhunt for those responsible for the March 11 bombings.

The suspects spotted the police from a window and shot at them, shouting in Arabic, the Interior Ministry said. No police officers were hurt by the gunfire.

Over the next two hours, police evacuated as many people as they could from the building and surrounding area and prepared for an assault on the apartment.

As the terrorists shot at police from the apartment, "they shouted 'God is great' and Islamic verses," the newspaper El Mundo quoted a resident of the building as saying. It identified him only as Alberto M., who lived two floors up.

El Pais said special forces preparing the assault managed to communicate with the terrorists and gave them a deadline to surrender. But the terrorists shouted back "God is great" we are going to go out killing," the newspaper said, quoting police.