VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2004 ( John Paul II expressed grief over the terrorist attacks in Madrid and condemned them as "unjustifiable acts that offend God, violate the fundamental right to life, and undermine peaceful coexistence."

Just three days before the general elections, and at the height of the rush hour, a chain of explosions today shook trains near the stations of Atocha, Pozo del Tio Raimundo, and St. Eugenia in the Spanish capital.

The bombs killed more than 190 and wounded 1,200 others in Spain's worst terrorist attack ever.

When learning "the sad news of the execrable terrorist attacks," the Pope had a telegram sent to the archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela.

In the telegram the Holy Father expressed his grief over this act "which has caused so many dead and very numerous wounded among citizens who were going to their workplaces" and which "with cruelty has immersed in sorrow" the families of the victims "and Spanish society in general."

In the message, sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul II reiterates "his firm and absolute reprobation of such unjustifiable acts that offend God, violate the fundamental right to life, and undermine peaceful coexistence, intensely yearned for by the ecclesial communities and the noble Spanish people."

The Holy Father also encouraged "the beloved Spanish people to continue with constancy and without discouragement on the path of a peaceful and calm coexistence."

The Pope assured his prayers for the deceased and his closeness "to the families who mourn their dear ones." He sent them his heartfelt sympathy, expressing "his best wishes for the speedy recovery of the wounded."

In an official statement, Angel Acebes, Spanish Minister of the Interior, blamed the attacks on the Basque separatist group ETA.

Three days of official mourning have been decreed in Spain, and the principal political parties have suspended their electoral campaign.

"It is the most serious terrorist attack that has happened in Europe. Europe had never been a victim of an attack of such proportions," the director of the Vatican press office, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, said on Vatican Radio.

"The Pope's first thought is for the families who mourn their dear ones who died in this attack, and also for the wounded," he said. "The Pope stresses [in his telegram] the cruelty of the incident against simple citizens who were going to work in the morning; hence, a blind attack."