Spain observed a low-key remembrance of the Madrid terror bombings on Saturday’s second anniversary of the attacks, as a delegation from Morocco — home to many of the suspects — fell silent at a station targeted in the massacre.
The 70-member delegation, called the Moroccan Caravan for Peace and Solidarity, set out from Morocco in buses on March 5, stopping in several Spanish cities before arriving at Atocha train station on a cold, blustery morning.
Members held a red Moroccan flag next to the red-and-yellow one of Spain as they stood in silence inside the station, one of four sites where 10 backpack bombs exploded exactly two years ago, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,500.
The attacks were claimed by al-Qaida, but a two-year investigation has revealed that Osama bin Laden’s group gave no logistical or financial support to the bombers, two senior intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
Many of the 24 suspects jailed in connection with the massacre are from Morocco, but some had lived in Spain for years.
“We want to express our solidarity and support for the Spanish people and show that the Moroccan people are a people of peace and against terrorism,” said Mohamed Boujida, a delegation member. He noted that Morocco itself was hit by Islamic terrorists in May 2003 with suicide attacks that killed 45 people, including the bombers.
The delegation deposited a wreath of red and white roses and daisies inside the station and wrote messages of condolence on a large-screen computer terminal set up at a memorial site inside the building.
The ceremony was the first of several scheduled for a day in which the normally festive atmosphere of a weekend in Spain was replaced by heartbreaking memories of the morning of March 11, 2004.
The bombs, loaded with dynamite and shrapnel, turned crowded, rush-hour commuter trains into a maelstrom of bodies and body parts, twisted metal and wailing sirens.
Spain’s version of Sept. 11 is etched so indelibly in Spaniards’ minds that virtually everyone remembers where they were when they learned of the bombings, the frantic rescue efforts, the anguished search for missing loved ones.
The computer screen at Atocha station showed images of people crying that day, amid other pictures from a hellish morning.
“March 11 is a date I will never forget,” said Javier Hervas, 35, who stopped by the terminal Saturday morning on his way to catch a train. “More than anything I remember the silence” that engulfed the city after the massacre.
Around the station, a few people lit candles and set them on the ground with flowers. But the outpouring was small compared to last year’s display of grief, with only a handful of Spaniards in attendance.
Paqui Fernandez, a 40-year-old security guard on her way to work, stopped by the station specifically to honor the victims and was shocked by how few others had made the trip.
“In Spain, everything is forgotten right away. I simply could not believe there were so few candles, that there was no one here in comparison to the big outpouring last year. I put myself in the place of the victims and simply want to remember them, to honor their memory,” she said.
Later Saturday, Christians, Muslims and Jews were to join together for an ecumenical prayer service outside Atocha station.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was to attend a noontime wreath-laying ceremony, to be followed by five minutes of silence at the Forest of Remembrance — a grove of 192 olive and cypress trees set up at a Madrid park in memory of the victims. Besides the 191 killed on the trains, a special forces officer died three weeks later when seven suspects holed up in an apartment outside Madrid blew themselves up to avert arrest.
As it did last year, the Association of Victims of March 11 was expected to mourn in silence. It was sending no official representative to the ceremony.
No one has been tried or even formally charged over the attack, but the judge leading the investigation said this week he expected to hand down the first indictments by April 10.
Unlike the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America, which united Americans across political lines, at least temporarily, the Madrid bombings proved to be divisive.
In elections three days afterward, voters elected the opposition Socialists and unseated a pro-U.S. government that had sent 1,300 peacekeepers to Iraq. Many Spaniards blamed that administration for the attack, saying it had made this country a target for terrorists. The Socialists quickly brought the troops home.