10 years ago today, on Thursday 11th March 2004, 191 people died in a "terrorist" attack on a train in Madrid. A small group of radical Islamists, connected in some way to Al Qaeda, left rucksacks loaded with explosives on a packed commuter train, and then presumably got off (not for them the Paradise and Virgins promised for freedom fighters apparently).
And basically that's all that matters, that 191 people's lives were wasted and hundreds of families destroyed forever - all for nothing.
As I think this is the main point of today's commemoration and I have nothing further to add, I wasn't going to blog about it today - but reading many comments and interviews with families of the victims, I have realised that many people outside of Spain do not know the other aspect to this story which has filled Spanish news on and off ever since that dreadful day....
Background: for some still surprising reason to me, the Spanish government had previously abandoned its traditional role as a meeting point for cultures and religions, and thrown its hat in with Blair and Bush when they decided to invade Iraq in the search for pink unicorns, or was it weapons of mass destruction? This decision was very controversial and led to demonstrations of millions of Spaniards (and Catalans) demanding Spain keep out of that war.
So, when the train bombs went off - just three days before Spanish general elections (14/3/2004) - there were two major ways it could influence the vote (a vote which the governing party, Aznar's right wing People's Party, was tipped to win):
1. If the Basque terrorists ETA had placed the bombs on the train, it would mean a huge pro-govt vote as they were/are firm believers in a strong fight against terrorism etc. The backlash against the Basques would have swept the PP back into power easily.
2. If the bombs were the work of Al Qaeda, as a kind of crazy (you kill our innocent citizens, we kill yours) response to Spain going to war against an Arab country, it would have proven millions of people right, and the PP would have been swept our of power for being in some way responsible for this revenge attack.
The bombs went off early Thursday morning and all through out the morning and afternoon, the government stated that they were pretty sure it was the work of ETA. Later on in the day, though, news came through that the Islamic nutters were claiming responsibility for the massacre. Many Basque experts said they'd been in touch with people in the know regarding ETA, and ETA were not involved. This news seeped through into the media, but not the big papers or the state TV. On Friday huge marches were held in many Spanish cities as a mark of outrage/respect/sympathy, but throughout the day, mouth to mouth, via internet etc, it was becoming clear that everyone believed it to be the work of the Al Qaeda group. So, the demonstration slogans quickly became a case of "we want to know the truth" as the government refused to even acknowledge this option - counting down the hours to election day (Sunday) and hoping they could keep the ETA option open. I think ETA even sent a press release denying anything to do with it (they are a terrorist group but apparently even they were shocked by this huge-scale massacre of innocents). Other clues started to appear, the kind of explosives used, ETA and Al Qaeda's usual way of operating, cassettes etc, all pointing towards the Al Qaeda link. However, President Aznar in person phoned the top national diaries to tell them it was definitely ETA and make sure Saturday's headlines indicated this and only this. Many papers still ignored the Al Qaeda option.
Saturday came and thanks to internet everyone knew the govt were just feeding us a bunch of nonsense, and more importantly, we knew why. People started sending phone messages to each other to organise spontaneous demonstrations once more outside the PP offices in all major cities. This was illegal as it is forbidden to hold any kind of political event on the day before elections here (it's called "the day for quite thought and contemplation"). But far too many people were outraged, not just at the 191 dead, but how the govt were blatantly using them for their own needs, and lying to the country, and the PP offices were virtually under siege until the early hours of Sunday with people screaming for the truth, and for the lies to stop. The lies swung the vote.
Sunday's elections confirmed what we all thought, a huge transfer of votes to the opposition, the socialist party who surprisingly won the elections and continued in power for 7 or 8 years.
Days later, the bombers blew themselves up when the police eventually found where they were staked out. After a long drawn-out investigation and court case, judges were able to confirm that they had been the only ones involved and that it was an Islamic thing, nothing to do with ETA.
Aznar and many right-wing journalists, however, even today still insinuate that maybe ETA secretly led the Islamists into doing this, and that maybe, just maybe, there was even somebody else involved, maybe the only ones who could have benefitted through this disaster - 3 days before an election...
So, as I said, a catastrophe for those involved and all Spain, but also an incredible story of how a government can put their own thirst for power above any respect for those who suffered that day.Here is an excellent article in English by a Catalan journalist on these events.