Ten coordinated terrorist bombings at the train stations of Atocha, El Pozo and Sta Eugenia, 11 March 2004: 191 dead, 1800 seriously injured


Text: Kris Sinclair Christian



On the 11th of March 2014, the Spanish Royal Family, the President of the Government Mariano Rajoy, along with other leaders of the political, social and economic sectors attended a special mass  at the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid for the victims of the bombings 10 years ago to the date. The families of the victims occupied a place of honor in the moving ceremony.


Click here to view the terror bombings video as soon as they occurred in 2004.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLB3DVNQ9L4



A year after the bombings the Madrileños were joined by a group of foreign dignitatries and correspondents at the El Bosque de Los Ausentes (The Forest of the Absent Ones), a memorial dedicated to the bombing victims at the vast Retiro Park very close to Atocha Station. Spotted among the dignitaries were Kofi Annan, then the General Secretary of the United Nations; Prince Ulay Rachid,  brother of King Mohamed VI of Morocco; and and Israeli Prime MInister Simon Peres.

The well-tended parcel dedicated to the victims is a “green reminder”of the wholesale carnage that shook not only the entire nation but also many parts of the world. Most of those who perished came from a modest background and there is no awesome monument listing their names. Nevertheless the Retiro, where the Bosque has been carved out, was once a royal park and and there,where the powerful Spanish sovereigns used to take leisurely walks, the victims are royally remembered.

Bosque de los Ausentes at the Retiro Park, a memorial for the 11-M terrorist victims

The Bosque  is a place to pause and say a prayer for world peace. It would surely have been the corner for the late John Lennon to belt out his famous “All I Am Saying is Give Peace a Chance,” as well as for Joan Baez. It would be just the right place for the American singer of Mexican and Irish origins, who has combined social activism beautifully with her musical career, to chant gently “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

Many Madrileños can still recall when King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia stepped silently onto the green memorial to preside over the inaugural ceremony of the El Bosque de los Ausentes. The Spanish monarchs refrained from delivering the customary speech, thus complying with the special request made by the families of the victim. A five-minute silence took the place of the speech, broken only by  El Cant dels Ocells  (The Song of the Birds, a traditional Catalan lullaby) on the cello.

Later on, music lovers in the throng spoke at length about this wonderful piece of offering and how it was played at the United Nations in New York by world-renowned cellist Pablo Casals. (The UN honored Casals by naming him A Man of Peace.) He is said to have remarked that “when the birds are in heaven they keep on singing Peace! Peace! Peace!”

The nation that has borne the tragedy with admirable forbearance and dignity cannot ever forget the atrocity. Its wounds may heal but the scar will remain forever.


This year, to commemorate the national tragedy and continue honoring the victims, the non-profit Asociación de 11M Afectados del Terrorismo in collaboration with the central government, the Ministery of Education and other governmental institutions, an exhibition titled “Una Ventana de Paz en Madrid, 10 Años Despues ” (A Window of Peace in Madrid, Ten Years Later) was mounted at the neoclassical Instituto Cervantes.

The  Asociacion de 11M Afectados del Terrorismo works closely with the victims´ families. Psychologists, doctors, lawyers and social workers are at hand to listen them, to advise, to comfort and, above all, to care.

The leaflet explains in simple language that the exhibit was “mainly to share the hug of solidarity [the families of the victims] had received and the solidarity of those who came to their aid with love, compassion, companionship and condolence.”

A year after the tragedy struck a group of realist painters from Madrid expressed their shock through 38 paintings and 2 sculptures which were displayed in an exhibit hall. Eventually they donated their works to the Asociacion. As time went by other artists sent in their pictures. Poems, writings, sketches poured in too.

And thereafter the Asociacion decided to have an exhibit so that the public could feel again the aftermath of that fatality. Many of the viewers were moved by the wide patchwork collection. The women in the group set up this project since it seemed to be “fantastic therapy.”

It just goes to show that “bits and pieces” of one’s loved ones who have passed on can be “patched together”  to perpetuatee their glowing presence.

Isabel Casanova went through her son Jorge´s drawers and found his jeans, sweatshirt and his First Communion suit and out of these, with patience and skill, she came up with a wonderful work of art.

Some of those who came to view the exhibit this rainy spring felt like weary pilgrims, tired but proud of a nation that is creeping back to life and able to produce a stunning showcase.

As one of the visitors  sat down for a quiet moment his eyes, he said, fell upon a verse by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges: “Kisses are not contracts and gifts are not merely promises and one starts to accept defeats with the head really high and eyes wide open and one learns to construct all the paths of today because tomorrow´s terrainis too insecure to make plans.”

And Spain may never forget the victims of the murderous terrorists but it is coping valiantly — even in these times of the crisis, on this tenth anniversary of the railway bombings.




The easiest way to get to the memorial is through the main entrance (Alfonso XII gate) to the Retiro Park. Make a left turn, head to the center, and keep walking until you reach the huge sports complex.

For more information check out. www.asociacion11m.org .


Featured image: Candles lovingly lighted at the Atocha station for the victims of the terrorist attacks, by Manuel Gonzalez Olaechea y Franco. Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0. Photo taken 27 March 2004.
Bosque de los Ausentes/Mr. tickle via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA3.0