DIANA Quer’s father went to the national Parliament building today (Thursday) to hand-deliver the petition he set up on Change.org calling for permanent but reviewable prison sentences to remain part of Spanish law....
Spain pays tribute to Madrid train bomb victims on 15th anniversary
SPAIN paused today to remember the victims of the 2004 commuter train bombing on a line heading for Madrid’s Atocha station, the self-confessed work of terror cell al-Qaeda and, to date, the worst terrorist attack in modern European history.
The multiple blast on March 11 – 15 years ago today – claimed 192 lives, most of whom died at the scene and others in hospital within a few hours to, in one case, 10 years, after never regaining consciousness.
Controversy surrounding the attack lost the elections for the then president José María Aznar, of the right-wing PP, who had been in power since 1996 but whose attempts to appease the public and avoid any questioning of Spain’s security levels by pinning the blame on the now-defunct Basque terrorist organisation ETA brought forth outrage from the public.
It was the start of a wave of al-Qaeda attacks, the next of which was in London on July 7, 2005, the worst terrorist incident in the capital so far this century.
Maite Araluce, who heads up Spain’s Terrorism Victims’ Association (AVT) says members still consider the attack referred to as 11-M as ‘an open case’ and that they want full investigations carried out into any similar incident ‘with truth and vigour, without frivolities, speculations or false hopes’ which ‘cause infinite pain’ to those left gravely injured, survivors, and the loved ones of the deceased, which ‘render them victims once again’.
This was directed at the political leaders present at the memorial service by the terror victims’ monument at Atocha station – which is signposted from every platform nearby – and who included the heads of the PP, Podemos and Ciudadanos, Spanish president Pedro Sánchez (PSOE, or socialists) and interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, head of the Greater Madrid regional government Ángel Garrido, and Madrid’s mayoress Manuela Carmena.
Sánchez gave an emotive speech that promised those who lost their lives and who still suffer the effects of their injuries will never be forgotten.
Grande-Marlaska assured those present that, now, ‘substantially, the whole truth’ is known about the attacks, and he slammed the retired National Police officer José Manuel Villarejo – who is currently in jail – for his conspiracy theory that claimed Morocco and France had a hand in the train blast.
A gathering at 09.00 in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square was followed by a demonstration and commemoration at 10.30 at Atocha, where one of the trains exploded, and moved onto the city’s huge Retiro Park opposite for a service near the 191 cypress and olive trees planted – one for each of the victims, although as yet a 192nd has not been planted for the man who remained in a coma until his death in 2014.
An offering of flowers in the C/ Téllez next to Atocha was held at 13.30, and a homage to the victims in the Plaza Daoíz y Velarde will take place at 17.00, attended by Manuela Carmena, Garrido, Grande-Marlaska and Pedro Sánchez among others.
The memorial moves on to the stations of Santa Eugenia at 18.00 and El Pozo at 19.00, where bombs also went off, led by the AVT’s sub-branch, the 11-M Association.
A service was held in the Greater Madrid towns of Torrejón de Ardoz, 14 of whose residents died, and Alcalá de Henares, where one of the trains that blew up set off from and 27 of whose residents were killed in the blast.
The attack 15 years ago today claimed the lives of 143 Spaniards and 49 passengers of 16 other nationalities.
Of these, 34 were killed at Atocha station, 63 on a train heading for the station that was still on the C/ Téllez, 65 in El Pozo station, 14 in Santa Eugenia station, and 16 in various hospitals in the city – 15 within a few hours or days, and one after a decade in a coma.
In addition, victim number 193 was police officer Francisco Javier Torronteras, who perished on April 3 that year during a raid on a Madrid flat occupied by seven members of the al-Qaeda commando who blew themselves up when authorities reached the scene.
A total of 116 people were placed under investigation, of whom 28 were formal suspects and 21 were convicted, but four of these were acquitted on appeal a year later and another, Antonio Toro, was sentenced after having been previously acquitted by the national court.
He was jailed for four years for having offered explosives to the Jihad cell ahead of the blast, and had already been convicted for drugs and explosives trafficking, meaning his total sentence reached 18 years and he will not leave prison until 2022.
A miner from Asturias, José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, was awarded the longest sentence in Spain’s criminal history so far for a native Spaniard at 34,715 years, although in practice he will only serve the maximum of 40 years, for supplying explosives to the terrorists.
He was transferred to a jail in the province of Palencia (Castilla y León) after threatening a prison guard in Galicia, telling him he ‘knew where his wife lived’.
After being granted second-degree prison in 2013, his connections with Jihad prisoners in Galicia and his general behaviour means he is now back on first-degree prison, with zero freedom.
The only person convicted as being the main material author of planting the bombs was Jamal Zougam, sentenced to 42,922 years, whilst the person who transported the explosives from Asturias to Morata de Tajuña (Greater Madrid region), Otman el-Gnaoui, was sentenced to 42,924 years and is believed to have been recruited to the Jihad ‘cause’ by one of the suicide bombers in Leganés, Madrid, who caused the death of the police officer a month after the train blasts.
Neither of these will be out of jail much before 2044.
Rachid Aglif and Abdemaljid Bouchar were sentenced to 18 years and Mohammed Bouharrat to 12 years, so they will be out between 2022 and 2023, and Abdelilah Hriz is in jail in his native Morocco for 20 years from 2008 – the country’s first prisoner sentenced for a crime committed abroad.
The last of the eight terrorists still in jail is Hassan el-Haski, alias Abu Hamza, who was sentenced to 14 years and due out in June, although he will be extradited to Morocco where he will be required to serve a pending sentence for previous offences.
Three others jailed in Morocco for their role in the Madrid blast – Hicham Ahmidam, Mohammed Behadj and Abdelazziz el-Merabet – have just finished their sentences and been released.
A further three involved in the blasts, Youssef Belhadj, Hamid Amidan and Saed el-Harrak, were released in 2017, although the first of these was extradited to Morocco.
In total, two-thirds have completed their sentences and been released, although as yet, none have been released since 2017.
The plaque in honour of the victims also remembers the emergency services and the hundreds of anonymous residents who helped out in the aftermath.
It brought out the best of humanity, say those who witnessed the blasts – dozens of people leaving their homes in their pyjamas to provide first aid, a bus turned into a makeshift ambulance, and hundreds leaving their workplaces and college classes to give blood.
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