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Honoring Spain's Dead

DW Staff (nda)March 14, 2004

As the polling stations open across Spain for Sunday's election, the funerals for those who died in the Madrid terrorist attacks go on.

Candles burn in towns and cities around Spain as the nation continues to grieve.Image: AP

After the shock and horror came anger and defiance. In the streets of Madrid on Friday, a day after Spain's worst ever terrorist attack which left nearly 200 people dead and many more injured, the people of the Spanish capital demanded answers and took to the streets to show that while the nation remained numb from the atrocity, they would not cower in their homes.

Spain is engulfed in a wave of emotion after the first funerals for victims of the bombings took place on Saturday.

The first funeral masses took place in Alcala de Henares, the commuter town east of Madrid. Lying 15 miles from the capital, Alcala de Hanares sees many of its workers and students leave for Madrid each day on the trains that until Thursday brought them safely to their jobs and places of education and back again.

All the trains that were bombed either started their journeys at Alcala or passed through on their way to Madrid. As a result, an estimated 1100 people from the town were on board at the time of the explosions.

Everyone knows a victim

Bombenanschläge in Madrid Miniquiz März 2004
Image: AP

As the dead began to be laid to rest on Saturday, forty funerals alone took place in Alcala for those who fell victim. Many of those who attended were not only the grieving relatives and friends of those who lost their lives but also many of the 120 townspeople injured; those fellow travellers who survived.

In the old university town of 190,000 inhabitants -- now made up mostly of working class people and immigrants from Eastern Europe and South America who have escaped the spiralling house prices in Madrid -- everyone knows a victim.

As the official period of mourning creeps onto the day of the Spanish elections, the sports hall which was due to act as a polling station will instead continue to act as a makeshift morgue as the slow process of laying the bodies to rest begins in earnest.

Life goes on in Alcala

The railway station at Alcala was mostly deserted on Friday, with station staff telling reporters that they estimated only ten percent of commuters had turned up for their trains to work. Those who had stood nervously, some in tears, according to reports, waiting to test their self determination to get on a train once more.

Encarnacion Moreno, an office cleaner, steeling herself for her daily trip into Madrid, told British newspaper The Guardian: "Of course we are scared, but life has to go on." She added that those responsible should be caught and hanged in the center of the capital for all to see.

Bombenanschläge in Madrid
Image: AP

"I see these people day in, day out and have become friends with some of them," Andres Zuya, a newsagent on Alcala station told reporters. "But today there is nobody here. I will find out next week which of my regulars won't be coming back."

Madrid swells with protest

Many of those who faced going to work on Friday went by car and bus into a capital city already bulging with congestion. As well as increased road traffic, Madrid was swelled with huge crowds of people, estimated at around two million, who turned out despite heavy rain, clutching umbrellas, flags and posters to denounce terrorism, some shouting "Assassins" and "A people united will never be defeated".

A six-lane motorway through the capital was also closed off to allow demonstrators to march to the railway station at Atocha where the worst of the attacks took place.

Across the grieving nation, vigils and rallies brought another six million people out onto the streets of towns and cities -- including those in the Basque country, the home of separatist group Eta, the suspected perpetrators.

Eta remains number one suspect

ETA Demonstration in Baskenland
Image: AP

However, despite the fact that the imminent elections suggest that the Basque separatists carried out the atrocities, there is little evidence as yet to positively identify who was responsible for the coordinated attacks. Eta has previously targeted the Spanish railway system and two Eta suspects were arrested last month driving a truck loaded with explosives headed for Madrid.

But after the group issued their denial, a statement was sent to a London-based newspaper claiming that al Qaeda was behind the bombings, and some Arab commentators in London said they believed it to be genuine.

Islamic group claims responsibility

A message purportedly from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades said it had attacked "America's ally in its war against Islam" on behalf of al-Qaeda. The statement read: "The death squad succeeded in penetrating the European crusader depths and striking one of the pillars of the crusader alliance -- Spain -- with a painful blow."

Unsubstantiated reports suggest the along with a number of detonators, an Arabic tape was found in a stolen van that was found by police near the route of the trains.

However, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said that "none of the intelligence services... have provided reliable information to the effect that it could have been an Islamic terrorist organisation."