“11M” is something that you might see several times today, the anniversary of 11 March in 2004, when 192 commuters were blown to their deaths and around 2,000 others injured in Madrid’s Atocha station bombings when some ten bombs exploded on four suburban trains at or near the central station. And every 11 March Spain records the tragic anniversary of its worst terrorist attack, still the worst terrorist attack on European soil to date.

The 2007 trial of the suspects found that it was an Islamic terrorist attack carried out in the name of Al Qaeda. It happened, however, just three days before a general election and so the Partido Popular (Conservative) Government of the time tried to blame the Basque nationalist group ETA because they knew how much the public had opposed Spain’s support of George Bush’s war in Iraq, and  how many had said that it would trigger just such an attack.

The Government expected to be punished at the polls, but when its attempt to finger ETA was disbelieved the PP was punished even more than they could have feared, and the PSOE (Socialists) swept to victory just a few days later in a fury of national outrage at both the attack and what the public saw as the ruling party’s attempt to lie its way out of trouble to win the election.

All that political and legal aftermath is now fading into history but the memory of the attacks is still raw, and will always leave deep scars on Spain’s psyche. People continue to gather every year on this day at the 11m-high crystal monument outside Atocha station and at the nearby memorial park, the Forest of Remembrance – Bosque del Recuerdo – with olives and cypresses, one for each victim. This year the gathering is suspended because of the restrictions newly introduced by the Government to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, but people will still be commemorating the date in private memorials and online.

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