As those responsible for the train bomb attacks in Madrid are brought to justice, Carlos Pranger believes Spain’s politicians should respect the victims and stop using the events of March 11, 2004, to score points
ON March 11, 2004, Spain woke up to the worst terrorist attack ever on home soil. Ten bombs exploded in four suburban trains in Madrid. It 8 o’clock, the morning rush hour, and all the trains were full of people going to work; 191 died and more than 1,700 were badly injured.
The attacks happened three days before the General Election while, since 2002, Spain had been involved in the unpopular war in Iraq. The then-president José María Aznar (of the right-wing Partido Popular) had justified the war on the existence of mass destruction weapons and by saying that “Spain should return to its legitimate place in history.”
This stirred up sleeper cells of terrorists, living in Spain among thousands of Muslim immigrants.
After the bombing, the reaction of the government was quite logical as it accused Basque separatist group Eta of the attack. It seemed everybody supported the government in those difficult moments.
But as the police investigation advanced, evidence against this first hypothesis started to appear: Eta normally gives warning of their bombs and there was the untargeted brutality of the action.
There was also an international reaction: the security services of France, Great Britain and Germany were put on alert, which does not happen when Eta attacks. Furthermore, stock markets suffered a huge drop.
The Basque hypothesis would not be so damaging to the PP government in the coming elections because, if it had been of Islamic terrorist authorship, people would link it with the PP support of the war in Iraq.
The government started a campaign to make Eta the culprit, phoning newspaper directors, foreign ambassadors and even writing a resolution for the United Nations. However, in this global village many people have satellite television and international news channels such as CNN, FOX or Al-Yazeera were swift in mentioning the Islamic link. Angry people took to the streets demanding the truth.
Spain was living one of the most complicated situations since it became a democratic country.
Wind of change
The elections on March 14 brought a change of government. The socialist PSOE won and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became president.
The PP reluctantly accepted the result, but instead of recognizing its faults or its clumsiness with the information, they intoxicated Spanish society with conspiracies to overthrow the fledgling administration.
Furthermore, those members of the former government who disseminated the false information in those tragic days are still part of the nucleus of the PP and have maintained, together with newspapers such as El Mundo or radio stations like COPE (owned by the church) the attack was a hidden coup.
They believe it was the terrorists and not the Spanish voters who placed Zapatero in government.
After the yihadist attack, Spanish society has been a model example of democracy and justice; no prisons like Guantanamo have been created nor has torture been justified nor countries invaded. Spain has believed in justice and that has culminated with the judicial process and the condemning – of part – of the Islamic terrorist cell involved in 11M.
I say partly because the most important members of the terrorist cell blew themselves up when the police had surrounded their safe house in the Madrid suburb of Leganes.
After months of the intense judicial trial, the judges reached a clear verdict on October 31. The Basque group had nothing to do with 11M and most of those who were taken to court have been condemned.
The process has been clear and it seemed the moment to turn the page, look towards the future and stop using the terror attack as a matter of political confrontation.
But, instead of praising a judicial verdict that cleared responsibilities and got rid of false hypothesis of authorship, current PP leader Mariano Rajoy and Aznar have been harking back to the old conspiracy theory.
The PSOE also has some responsibility in this. Although Zapatero’s speech after the verdict called for unity against terrorism, the head secretary of the PSOE, José Blanco, made an analogy between the intellectual and material authors of the attack and the government of the PP, led by Aznar.
No matter how wrong the PP is, terrorism should not be a matter of political confrontation.
Islamic Terrorism is not simple; its complexity is one of its great weapons. Al-Qaeda is not a traditional terrorist organization as it is a network of small groups with autonomy of action that attack when ready and without need for further commands.
It is very difficult to define this invisible enemy.
Spain after the September 11 attacks on New York city and Washington DC did not give due importance to the intense ramification and radicalization of yihadist groups all over the world. The PSOE should not think the attack was only a reprisal for the war in Iraq and the PP must accept its faults and lack of honesty after that fateful March day.
The bombing was done by an Islamic terrorist cell. People living in Spain with international yihadist connections with Al-Qaeda did the bombing. The essential aim should be, out of respect for the victims, to stop the political confrontation and to focus on trying to stop new terrorist attacks.