Spain's Osama legacy

In the middle of a roundabout, outside Atocha railway station in Madrid, there is a memorial to the dead and to the victims of Osama bin Laden. It marks the day, March 11 2004, when death arrived at the station.

    In the middle of a roundabout, outside Atocha railway station in Madrid, there is a memorial to the dead and to the victims of Osama bin Laden.

    It marks the day, March 11 2004, when death arrived at the station.

    Bombs planted on an early morning commuter train exploded. The moment the flames and the horror ripped through the station was captured on CCTV - the scene made more chilling by the absence of sound.

    There were three trains attacked that day.

    The blasts from 10 backpacks filled with dynamite and nails killed 192 people and injured more than 1800.

    The police slowly made the connections and it became clear to them that those responsible for the attacks were supporters and followers of bin Laden.  

    Dead, dying and injured

    Monica Sanchez Garcia was on the train to Atocha. She saw the dead, the dying and the injured before she lapsed into a coma. It was 28 days before she regained consciousness. It took her three years to recover from the physical injuries she suffered.  And even today, in her left ear she wears a discreet little device to help her with the hearing she lost in the explosion. She also lost the baby she was carrying, an un-counted victim of the bombing.

    We meet at the station. She is content to return to the scene of her worst moment. She wants to talk about the news she heard this morning about the death of bin Laden, the man she believes ordered the attack that almost killed her.

    Small and animated, she smiles more than she should given what she’s been through. Monica believes the events from seven years ago changed Spain and perhaps the world: ‘In some countries they are used to this sort of thing – but not in Spain. Now it is impossible to go on a train without thinking someone may put a bomb on it, impossible to build a tall building without thinking that someone may fly a plane into it."

    And she hopes that the death of bin Laden will not mean people begin to forget what happened in Madrid. "This is not the end to this chapter in my life, no it is not. There are still a lot of things to be done with the victims. Bin Laden is not the only terrorist. They have many cells with long tentacles that reach every country as has been demonstrated. And I am frightened that there will be reprisals."

    The bombing of Madrid was the most significant attack on the West since 9/11. In the immediate aftermath, it changed Spanish government policy. It also changed the way people felt about their security. Travellers around Atocha believe the death of bin Laden won't change it back.

    Religious fundamentalism widespread

    One young woman says: "If it’s not bin Laden, it’ll be someone else. Religious fundamentalism is widespread. So if it’s not him…" Her voice trails off before she adds: "Generally I’m not happy about the death of anyone but this good news."

    A man on his way home after arriving at the station says: "If you accept that bin Laden was responsible for 50 per cent of the insecurity in the world – then the other 50 per cent is the responsibility of European governments and the government of the United States."

    The large glass cylinder which marks the overground part of the memorial leads to a quiet, subterranean chamber which is quiet and relaxed, which fills with natural light. On the wall, the names of those killed in the Atocha bombings, all 192 of them. There are other memorials to the day back in March 2004. And most of them now go almost unnoticed by those who pass. But the worries and fears that came that day are never far from the surface. And so this touching monument is also a permanent reminder of Osama Bin Laden and of what his words and thoughts and deeds brought to Spain.


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