15 years on, and the Spanish remember train-bomb victims

SPAIN came to a halt last Monday, its people remembering victims of the 2004 commuter-train bombing, on a line heading for Madrid’s Atocha station.

It was the self-confessed work of terror cell al-Qaeda, and, to date, the worst terrorist attack in modern, European history. The multiple blast, on 11th March 2004, claimed 192 lives, most of whom died at the scene and others in hospital within a few hours. And one victim never regained consciousness, despite hanging on for a decade!

Controversy surrounding the attack lost the elections for then Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, of the right-wing PP, who had been in power since 1996.

His attempts to appease the public, and avoid any questioning of Spain’s security levels by pinning the blame on the now-defunct Basque terrorist organisation ETA, sparked public outrage.

It was the start of al-Qaeda’s wave of attacks, the next of which occurred in London on 7th July 7, 2005. It was the capital’s worst terrorist incident so far this century.

Maite Araluce, who heads Spain’s Terrorism Victims’ Association (AVT), says members still consider the attack, referred to as 11-M, as “an open case”.

They want full investigations carried out into any similar incident “with truth and vigour, without frivolities, speculations or false hopes, which cause infinite pain to those left gravely-injured, survivors, and the loved ones of the deceased, which render them victims again”.

This was directed at the political leaders present at the memorial service, held by the terror-victims’ monument at Atocha station, which is signposted from every platform nearby.

Those leaders included the heads of the PP, Podemos and Ciudadanos, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) and Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, along with Ángel Garrido, head of the Greater Madrid regional government, and Madrid Mayoress Manuela Carmena.

Sánchez gave an emotional speech, which promised that those who lost their lives, and those who still suffer the effects of their injuries, will never be forgotten.

Grande-Marlaska assured those present: “Now, substantially, the whole truth is known about the attacks,” and he criticised retired National Police officer José Manuel Villarejo, currently in jail, for his conspiracy theory, which claimed Morocco and France were involved in the train blast.

The gathering, at 9am in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square, was followed by a demonstration and commemoration 90 minutes later, at Atocha, where one of the trains exploded.

The crowd then moved on to the city’s huge Retiro Park, opposite, for a service near the 191 cypress and olive trees planted, one for each victim.

As yet, though, a 192nd tree has not been planted for the man who remained in a coma until his death, in 2014.

An offering of flowers in the C/ Téllez, next to Atocha, was held at 1.30pm, and homage to the victims in the Plaza Daoíz y Velarde was paid at 5pm, attended by Manuela Carmena, Garrido, Grande-Marlaska and Pedro Sánchez, among others.

The memorial, led by the AVT’s 11-M Association, moved on to the stations of Santa Eugenia at 6pm and an hour later to El Pozo, where bombs also went off.

Services were also held in the Greater Madrid towns of Torrejón de Ardoz, 14 of whose residents died, and Alcalá de Henares, where one of the trains which blew up began its journey, with 27 residents dying in the blast.

In all, the entire attack claimed the lives of 143 Spaniards, and 49 passengers of 16 other nationalities. Of these, 34 were killed at Atocha station, 63 on a train heading for the station that was still on the C/ Téllez, as well as 65 in El Pozo station, 14 in Santa Eugenia station, and 16 in various hospitals in the city. Fifteen victims died within a few hours or days, and that lone person after a decade in a coma.

In addition, victim No.193 was police officer Francisco Javier Torronteras, who perished on 3rd April that year during a raid on a Madrid flat, occupied by seven members of the al-Qaeda commando, who blew themselves up when authorities arrived at the scene.

A total of 116 people were placed under investigation, of whom 28 were formal suspects, and 21 were convicted. But four of these were acquitted on appeal a year later, while another, Antonio Toro, was sentenced after being acquitted, previously, by the national court.

He was jailed for four years for having offered explosives to the Jihad cell ahead of the blast. He had already been convicted for trafficking drugs and explosives, which meant his total sentence reached 18 years, and he will not leave prison until 2022.

José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, an Asturias miner, was awarded the longest sentence in the country’s criminal history for a native Spaniard, at a mind-boggling 34,715 years.

In practice, though, he will serve the maximum of 40 years, for supplying explosives to the terrorists.

He was transferred to a jail in the province of Palencia (Castilla y León) after threatening a prison guard in Galicia, telling him he “knew where his wife lived”.

After being granted second-degree prison in 2013, his connections with Jihad prisoners in Galicia, and his general behaviour means he is now back in first-degree prison, with zero freedom.

The only person convicted as being the main author of the bomb-planting was Jamal Zougam, sentenced to 42,922 years, while Otman el-Gnaoui, who transported the explosives from Asturias to Morata de Tajuña (Greater Madrid region), was sentenced to 42,924 years.

He is believed to have been recruited to the Jihad “cause” by one of the suicide bombers in Leganés, Madrid, who caused the police officer’s death, a month after the train blasts. Neither of these will be out of jail much before 2044.

Rachid Aglif and Abdemaljid Bouchar were sentenced to 18 years and Mohammed Bouharrat to 12 years, so they will be out between 2022 and 2023, and Abdelilah Hriz was jailed in his native Morocco for 20 years in 2008, as the country’s first prisoner sentenced for a crime committed abroad.

The last of the eight terrorists still in jail is Hassan el-Haski, alias Abu Hamza, who was sentenced to 14 years and is scheduled for release in June.

But he will be extradited to Morocco, where he will serve a pending sentence for previous offences.

Three others jailed in Morocco for their role in the Madrid blast, Hicham Ahmidam, Mohammed Behadj and Abdelazziz el-Merabet, have just completed their sentences and are free.

A further three involved in the blasts, Youssef Belhadj, Hamid Amidan and Saed el-Harrak, were released in 2017, although the first one named was extradited to Morocco.

In total, two-thirds have completed their sentences and been released, although, as yet, none has been released since 2017.

The plaque in honour of the victims also remembers the emergency services, as well as the hundreds of anonymous residents, who helped out in the aftermath.

It brought out the best of humanity, say those who witnessed the blasts: dozens of people left their homes in pyjamas to provide first-aid, a bus was converted into a makeshift ambulance, and hundreds left their workplaces and college classes to give blood.


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Posted by on Mar 15 2019. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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