Spain is marking the third anniversary of the Madrid terror bombings that killed 191 people on Sunday with the unveiling of a towering glass monument bearing messages of condolence left written in the days after the attacks.
King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and senior government officials were to preside over the unveiling of the monument 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. More than 1,800 people were wounded in Europe’s worst terror attack blamed on Muslim extremists.
The monument being is an irregularly shaped, 35-foot tall glass cylinder with a transparent inner membrane holding messages of condolence that Spaniards left at Atocha station after the attacks.
Newspapers reprinted photos of that hellish day: red-and-white train cars blown apart by dynamite-and-shrapnel bombs activated with cell phones, families that are still grieving, a handful of victims still hospitalized.
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-Qaida 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 terror grid, 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 Islamic involvement.
That led to allegations of a cover-up to divert attention from its unpopular support of the war, and in elections three days after the massacre 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 terror target by backing the war.