Across Spain today, people are marking the first anniversary of the March 11 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and left more than 1,800 wounded. We go to Madrid to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent, Maria Carrion. [includes rush transcript]
Across Spain today, people are marking the first anniversary of the March 11 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and left more than 1,800 wounded.
Some 650 churches throughout the Madrid area rang their bells for five minutes from 7:37 a.m. the time that 10 bombs began exploding on four packed trains in what Spaniards refer to as "our September 11th".
The explosions came three days before a general election, in which the Socialists headed by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ousted the right-wing Popular Party of then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a Moroccan cell with links to al-Qaeda, and most of those who have been arrested are Moroccan citizens.
Meanwhile, Muslim clerics in Spain issued what they called the world"s first fatwa, or edict, against Osama bin Laden, urging other Muslims to denounce the Al Qaeda leader. The ruling was issued by the Islamic Commission of Spain, the main body representing the country’s 1 million Muslims.
- Maria Carrion, Democracy Now! correspondent.
Special thanks to Nina Rosenblum for providing footage from her new film, "Zahira’s Peace" on the Madrid attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Spain, to speak with independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, Maria Carrion. She joins us on the line from Madrid. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Maria.
MARIA CARRION: Thank you, Amy. Its good to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what happened in Spain today?
MARIA CARRION: Well, I think the tone was set today for the commemoration by the association of the family members and victims of the March 11th bombings. And its head, its president, Pilar Manjon, who lost a son in one of the trains, basically made a call for peace, for non-violent resolution of conflicts against all wars and against all sorts of political and religious fundamentalist — fundamentalism. I think that was, that really has been sort of the tone that they have been setting from the very beginning from last March 11, and I think before talking about what has happened since in terms of today’s commemorations and the large summit that just took place in Madrid on terrorism, it’s really interesting to note that this past year has been very, very different, from the year that followed the September 11th attacks in the United States. We in Spain have not seen a passage of a sort of a PATRIOT Act type of a law. We’ve not had any alerts, orange alerts or yellow alerts. There’s been no mass hysteria in the media talking about, you know, new attacks and about having to attack other countries. We’ve had no massive indiscriminate arrests of Arabs or Moroccan citizens, and as a matter of fact, the first act of Spaniards basically after tending to the victims, tending to the wounded, was to toss out a pro-war government, a government that has sent troops to Iraq and that has stood with President Bush and, in the Azures, calling for war. And the first act of the socialists when they came to power was to withdraw troops, Spanish troops from Iraq. So, basically, I think that what we see here is a sort of an alternative vision of how to deal with terrorism that first calls for a look at ourselves, and whether we have fomented from the West some of these, you know, some of this hatred that leads to these kinds of attacks.
So, having said that, I can tell you that, you know, it’s a very somber day here today. It’s being marked by, aside from the events that you mentioned, a planting of 191 cypress trees and olive trees in a park here in Madrid. This is an act presided over by the King and Queen of Spain and also the King of Morocco. Many of the people arrested, as you mentioned, in the attacks were Moroccan citizens. So he wanted to be here for that. We had five minutes of silence at noon. Spain is a very noisy country and Madrid is an extremely noisy city, and it was incredible how everything came to a screeching halt at 12 noon, and everybody just paused for a few minutes to commemorate, to think about the dead and the injured. There’s also an interesting development here. We’ve had Families of September 11 Victims For Peaceful Tomorrows, they have come to Madrid to hold hands with the families of those killed and those injured in the attacks here in Madrid. So, they were here to share their experiences, and they held a vigil for the victims and also against the war just a few days ago.
So, there’s much going on here, and of course, on an official level, we have had a couple of things happen. One is the closure of the March 11 Commission, and Democracy Now! interviewed one of the members of the Commission when you were here, Amy. You interviewed one of them. Basically, they have issued their recommendations, and they have been approved by the entire Commission except members of the P.P., which is the conservative party that was in power when the attacks happened. And the P.P. has withheld its support because they believe that there is a link between the attacks and E.T.A., the Basque separatist group. This is something that has been rejected by both the investigators, the prosecutors in the case, but P.P. wants to hold to that theory. So, they do not accept this document. Today, the Spanish government also took the document and approved measures, assistance for victims and other measures that are recommended by the commission. We’ve also seen some other conclusions come out of this and these investigations. We’ve had, you know, 75 arrests so far, mostly Moroccan citizens, and 23 remain in jail. We’ve had one conviction, that of a juvenile from Spain, who was accused of being the go-between between those who were selling explosives and those buying the explosives that were placed in the trains. Then, of course, seven presumed attackers committed a collective suicide when they were surrounded by police weeks after the attacks. That happened April 4th of last year. Aside from that, another clear conclusion coming out of prosecutors is that there was definitely a link between Spain’s initial support and involvement in the war in Iraq and the attacks. We saw a lot of threats being issued by al Qaeda when Spain joined in with the United States, and one of the conclusions also is that the Spanish government neglected to take measures, concrete measures, with the information that they had through informants that these sales of dynamite were taking place and that suspected members of al Qaeda were purchasing the dynamite. And there’s a sense here that the government was downplaying the risks because it didn’t want to be perceived as being a target because of its involvement in the war. So, that may have led to some neglect on the part of investigators before the attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: And of course
MARIA CARRION: Nobody was saying it could have been avoided. Sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Maria, for people who don’t remember at that time, the first target of the Aznar government was E.T.A., saying that the bombing was done by E.T.A.
MARIA CARRION: Precisely. And really, it was more the, probably, the government manipulation of information that led to their being tossed out of power. Basically for three days, even though the first day right after the attacks, just hours after the attacks, the police found an abandoned vehicle at one of the stations, the station that one of the trains had left from, and that car had detonators that coincided with those used in the attack, as well as a tape of Koranic verses, and very quickly on, the police adopted a theory that it wasn’t E.T.A. and that it was probably al Qaeda and even though, you know, very soon after that they made the very first arrest of Moroccan citizens tied to al Qaeda, the Spanish government in all of its appearances before the press continued to insist that E.T.A. was the first and main suspect of the investigation, to the point where the day before elections, there were mass protests across Spain in front of the P.P. headquarters demanding to know the truth, people demanding to be told the truth about who did this or who is being investigated as the number one suspect. And the day after that was the day that the P.P. was tossed from power.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Maria, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Maria Carrion, joining us from Madrid, Spain, on this first anniversary of the March 11 train bombings.