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Madrid's Train Bombing Still Unsolved A Year Later

by Alicia Fraerman

to coverage of Madrid bombing

(IPS) MADRID -- A year after the Mar. 11, 2004 terrorist attacks that killed 192 people and injured some 2,000 in the Spanish capital, investigations have still not conclusively determined who planned and directed the planting of the bombs on four commuter trains at rush hour.

The prosecutor for the case, Olga Sanchez, told the press that 40,000 pages of documentation have been gathered for the indictment, with 72 individuals charged and 22 in custody for allegedly participating in the attacks.

But investigators have still not discovered if they belong to any group or organization, nor who gave the orders.

There clearly were, however, a number of figures primarily responsible at various levels, although it will take several more months to reach definitive conclusions, Sanchez said.

During this time, it is hoped that testimony can be gathered from suspects and witnesses outside of Spain, for which formal requests have been made to the authorities in Belgium, France, Italy, Algeria and Morocco.

Sanchez ended her news briefing by stating that the prosecution will soon know "what happened on Mar. 11 and why it happened," adding that the emphasis is on finding "those who planned, prepared and carried out the attacks."

In an earlier interview with the SER radio network, Sanchez asserted that the date of the explosions, Mar. 11, "was not chosen at random."

The selection of this particular day "had great symbolic and cabalistic significance for the local chapters of Al Qaeda," the Islamic extremist terror network led by Osama bin Laden and accused by the United States of having perpetrated the attacks on New York and Washington using passenger planes on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Madrid attacks were carried out on the first 11th day of a month after the terrorists had managed to acquire the explosives, 911 days after Sept. 11, 2001, and against four targets, just as there were four intended targets in the United States, Sanchez noted.

While the justice system has yet to reach definitive conclusions, the parliamentary inquiry commission has made even less progress, after a year of meetings and hearings.

The session that caused the greatest impact was the one addressed in December by the current president of the Association of Victims of Mar. 11, Pilar Manjon, whose 24-year-old son Daniel Paz Manjon was killed in the attacks.

Manjon complained that the political parties had placed their own interests above an in-depth investigation of the attacks, and called for the creation of an independent commission.

But her proposal was ignored, because the parties "are still more concerned about the political advantages they can gain than about finding the truth," she said.

When asked by journalists to comment on the inter-party squabbling that predominates in the ad hoc commission, Manjon said that she did not know "what kind of truth the politicians are after, but I do know what we want to find out: who planned, prepared and committed the attacks. And we will soon know," she added.

"We would like to know what was going on with the plot behind the explosives, the reports warning about terrorist threats, as well as the lack of resources, police and translators, and the total absence of political will to foresee what was coming straight at us after we had been turned into a terrorist target," Manjon told reporters on Wednesday.

There is general agreement that the attacks were planned by local Islamist radicals, and this theory seemed to be confirmed when a number of them committed suicide when surrounded by the police in a house in the Madrid suburb of Leganes, on Apr. 3, 2004.

Nevertheless, others believe that these individuals were members of an international organization, such as Al Qaeda.

Jorge Dezcallar, who was director of Spain's National Information Center (CNI) a year ago, now reports that the CIA "began to pick things up in the ether" after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The CIA also attempted to similarly intercept satellite communications after the Mar. 11 events in Spain, at the request of the Spanish authorities, "but they didn't find anything, and neither did anyone else," said Dezcallar.

"Some (intelligence) services tell us they believe that Mar. 11 was cooked up here at home," Dezcallar said in an interview published Thursday in the Madrid newspaper El Pais. In other words, the attacks were not organized abroad, but rather by Islamist extremists living in Spain.

The head of the group who blew themselves up in Leganes, Allekema Lamari, resided in Spain. His arrest had been ordered by the judicial authorities at the request of the CNI before the attacks.

According to Dezcallar, several days before Mar. 11, the CNI discovered that Lamari was giving away his belongings, which was interpreted as an act of farewell and thus led the Spanish intelligence agency to sound the alarm.

Nevertheless, the security forces subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, run at the time by Angel Acebes of the conservative Popular Party (PP), did not order Lamari's arrest, noted Dezcallar.

In fact, the first response by the PP government led by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was to blame the early morning train blasts on the Basque separatist group ETA.

It was not until the afternoon of Mar. 11, when a backpack carrying an unexploded bomb and a cassette tape with Koranic verses was found in an abandoned car in nearby Alcala de Henares, that the focus of the investigation began to shift to the radical Islamic community.

But the Aznar administration, apparently more concerned about the upcoming general elections on Mar. 14, continued to stress the alternative possibility of ETA involvement, for fear that an Islamist terror attack would be viewed by voters as a reprisal for Spain's participation in the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Aznar's decision to send Spanish troops had met overwhelming popular opposition.

In the end, according to many observers, his fears were realized, as the people of Spain used their ballots to punish the PP, which lost the elections.

This Friday, on the first anniversary of the attacks, the entire country will observe five minutes of silence as of 7:37 A.M. local time, which was when the first bombs exploded in a train arriving at Atocha station.

The one exception to the silence will be the ringing of the bells in Catholic churches throughout Madrid, despite the protest of the Association of Victims of Mar. 11.

"We know perfectly well what time these tragic attacks took place. We remember every day. Nobody wants to be reminded of their tragedy," said the Association.

The members of the group, made up of survivors and the relatives of victims, will not be attending any of the events planned to mark the date, not even the one to be headed up by King Juan Carlos and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Survivors of the attacks and the relatives of victims feel "overwhelmed by the lack of privacy to cry for our loved ones," said Manjon. Mar. 11 should be a day of mourning in which the explosion of the ten bombs is remembered with "silence, dignity and respect," she added.

As well as greater efforts in investigating the attacks, Manjon called for better care and treatment for the survivors suffering physical and psychological effects.

There are 1,500 victims still waiting for surgical procedures and other forms of treatment in the public health care system, she reported.

In addition, around 300 undocumented immigrants who were passengers on the trains at the time of the attacks and have been emotionally damaged by the experience have still not been officially recognized as victims, which would serve as grounds for immediately obtaining legal resident status in Spain, she added.

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Albion Monitor March 11, 2005 (

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