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Spain marks sixth anniversary of Madrid train bombings

(The following appeared on the Montreal Gazette website on March 11, 2010.)

MADRID —Spain marked the sixth anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, Europe's worst Islamist attack, on Thursday with a moment of silence in parliament and other formal ceremonies to remember the 191 people who died and nearly 2,000 who were injured.

Some people laid flowers at the commuter rail stations which were hit when the 10 backpacks filled with explosive and nails went off on four trains during the morning rush hour on March 11, 2004 in the al-Qaida inspired attack.

Parliamentary speaker Jose Bono announced that June 27 would from now on be designated as a day of "memory and homage" in Spain to all victims of terrorism.

"Remembering saves us, and protects against a second crime, which would be that of oblivion. No one dies completely, so long as they are not forgotten," he said before parliament marked the minute of silence.
June 27 was selected because on that date in 1960 the Basque separatist group ETA staged its first deadly attack, the bombing of a left luggage office at a train station in the Basque town of Amara that killed a 22-month-old baby.

ETA, which figures on the terrorist blacklist of both the European Union and the United States, is blamed for over 800 deaths in its four-decade-long campaign for independence in the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.

The near-simultaneous bombings on March 11, 2004 sparked political turmoil as Spains then conservative government pointed the finger of blame at ETA even as evidence quickly began to point to Islamic extremists.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist Party scored a surprise win in a general election held three days after the bombings, which were claimed by Islamic militants saying they acted on behalf of al-Qaida against the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq.

Three weeks after the bombings, seven of the alleged ringleaders blew themselves up as Spanish police surrounded the flat where they were hiding.

A Spanish court in October 2007 convicted 21 of the 28 defendants, mostly from north Africa, who stood trial in connection with the bombings. They were found guilty on charges ranging from weapons possession to mass murder.

The following year Spain's Supreme Court acquitted four of the 21 on appeal.

During the first anniversary of the attacks, traffic came to a standstill and people poured out of office buildings to observe five minutes of silence but the commemorations have drawn less attention as the years go by.

Friday, March 12, 2010

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