Spain Bombing Anniversary, Victims Remembered With Towering Monument

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 1:34 pm
By: News On 6

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Spain paid tribute to victims of Europe's worst Islamic-linked terror attack Sunday as the king unveiled a towering glass monument etched with outpourings of grief for the 191 people who died in the train bombings three years ago.

Spaniards fell silent at the memorial site _ the bomb-hit Atocha rail station in downtown Madrid _ and left candles and flowers at other spots around the city to remember the attack on March 11, 2004, which also wounded more than 1,800 people.

``It is a day of immense pain,'' said Pilar Manjon, leader of a March 11 victims association who lost her 20-year-old son Daniel in the bombings.

King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia, senior government officials and an invitation-only crowd of several hundred people listened to a lone cellist play the sad strains of ``Song of the Birds,'' a composition by Pablo Casals meant to be a call for peace.

The ceremony was short and staid. There were no speeches. Some wiped away tears outside the station, one of four targets in the string of 10 backpack bombings that ripped apart the packed commuter trains at rush hour.

Accompanied by guards, the king placed a wreath at the foot of the monument: a 10-story glass cylinder with a transparent inner membrane bearing messages of condolence that Spaniards and other people left at Atocha and elsewhere after the attacks. These messages, in Spanish and other languages, are only visible from a chamber beneath the hollow, oval-shaped monument.

``Tomorrow I will leave home just like you did, in order to continue your journey,'' one inscription reads. Another, in English, said, ``Words are not enough.''

The monument is the second to the people killed in the Madrid attack.

On its first anniversary, Spaniards inaugurated what they call the ``Forest of Remembrance,'' a grove of olive and cypress trees in the city's main park. The new glass monument _ two and a half years in the making at a cost of $6 million _ is considered the main tribute to the victims.

The Spanish monument's construction moved considerably more quickly than work in New York on a comprehensive memorial to the 2,973 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Construction at the site in Manhattan began a year ago; since then, it has been redesigned to trim a construction budget that was approaching $1 billion.

The current design for New York includes twin reflecting pools in place of the Twin Towers, along with a tree-lined plaza and museum. Lynn Rasic, spokeswoman for the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, said construction at the eight-acre site is set to be completed by 2009.

The Spanish bombings were claimed by Muslim militants who said they were acting on behalf of al-Qaida to avenge the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spanish investigators say the cell did not receive orders or financing from Osama bin Laden's terrorist group, but was inspired by it. Twenty-nine people are on trial in Madrid over the attacks.

The conservative government in power at the time of the attacks had sent 1,300 peacekeepers to Iraq and initially blamed the Madrid bombings on the Basque separatist group ETA, even as evidence emerged of the involvement of Islamic extremists.

That led to allegations of a cover-up to divert attention from its unpopular support of the war in Iraq. In elections three days after the attacks, the conservatives were voted out of power and the Socialists took control of the government. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero quickly brought home Spain's troops from Iraq.

The attacks left Spain deeply divided. Conservatives question the Socialist government's legitimacy, saying it took power through tragedy and unfairly refuses to resume a probe into a possible ETA link into the bombings.

The Socialists say the conservatives made Spain a terror target by backing the war.