Madrid mourns its bomb victims

The nation remembered the victims of the Madrid train bombings with a towering glass monument bearing messages of condolence written in the days after the attacks three years ago.


King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and senior government officials presided over the ceremony outside the Atocha rail station, one of four targets in the string of 10 backpack bombs that ripped apart morning rush-hour commuter trains on March 11, 2004.

The bombings, Europe's worst terrorist attack blamed on Islamic extremists, killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 people.

The monument being unveiled today is an irregularly shaped, 11-metre-tall glass cylinder with a transparent inner membrane bearing messages of condolence that Spaniards left at Atocha station after the attacks.

These were left on notes left at makeshift memorials of flowers and candles and on a computer set up for them to record their thoughts.

As on the first two anniversaries, the ceremony was short and staid. There were no speeches, with those in attendance observing five minutes of silence. A cellist played the mournful strains of Song of the Birds by Pablo Casals, a composition meant to be a call for peace.

Newspapers reprinted photos of that hellish day: red-and-white train cars blown apart by dynamite-and-shrapnel bombs activated with cell phones.

Twenty-nine people are currently on trial in Madrid over the attacks.

The bombings were claimed by Muslim militants who said they were acting on behalf of al-Qaeda to avenge the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spanish investigators say, however, that the cell did not receive orders or financing from Osama bin Laden's terrorist group, but was inspired by it.

The conservative government in power at the time of the attacks had sent 1,300 peacekeepers to Iraq and initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA, maintaining this argument even as evidence emerged of the involvement of Islamic extremists.

That led to allegations of a cover-up to divert attention from its unpopular support of the war in Iraq, and in elections three days after the attacks the conservatives were voted out of power.

Victorious Socialists led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, now the prime minister, quickly brought home Spain's troops from Iraq.

The attacks left Spain deeply divided. Conservatives question the Socialist government's legitimacy, saying it took power through tragedy and unfairly refuses to resume a probe into a possible ETA link. The Socialists say the conservatives made Spain a terrorist target by backing the war.

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