4 days that changed Spain

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In March, 2004, two major events coincided to mark a major turning point in Spanish life, one which may have repercussions far beyond the borders of Spain. On 11th March, 2004, 199 people lost their lives when 13 bombs, placed by Islamic terrorists, exploded on 4 commuter trains in the Madrid rush hour. On the 14th, Spaniards were called to a national election, the results of which were a swing which no one had previously expected.

14th February 2007. Almost 3 years on, the trial of those suspects who did not die in the bombing and its aftermath is about to take place, but there are still mysteries associated with the event. The BBC has just published a comment on the preparation for the trial which is now starting. Follow the links in the article to BBC coverage or read on!

Anniversary Comment

We would love to be able to revise the entire contents of this page at this time. Unfortunately, we are too busy to do this. Nevertheless, it is still clear one year on, that the events of those 4 days came to dominate the life of millions over the year. The political repercussions remain with us, of course. So do memories of those who were affected, directly or indirectly, including many hundreds of evangelicals in Madrid.

The anniversary will see a number of special events both at top political level, with 20 heads of state and government attending the summit and a Madrid Agenda being signed, which will undoubtedly hit the headlines and also among the more lowly of Madrileños. Madrid's evangelicals have planned a special commemoration journey along the Alcalá de Henares to Atocha train line, with times of prayer at each of the stations involved,as well as a distribution of literature to passengers. The train ride is planned for Saturday, 12th, in the afternoon, when it is less likely to affect commuters and more to gain support from Madrid's Christians.

Here follows what we wrote in the days following the tragedy.


16 March 2003: Spanish president Aznar met with Bush and Blair in the Azores.

Spain allied itself with the hardest line approach to terrorism, largely due to the internal terrorist situation with ETA. (cf. The Basque problem)

The Iraq war and subsequent involvement of Spanish ground forces in peacekeeping role

Spanish forces were not directly involved in the 'fighting phase' of the war, although there were field hospitals manned by Spanish troops. However, they came in soon afterwards to provide policing and leadership for the coalition forces in central Iraq, based on Diwanya and including the Shia holy places.

The response of the Spanish population to the above events

The Spanish population was very much opposed to the war. They sympathised much more with the French and German position that a war would not bring the desired results. Millions demonstrated on the streets of major cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona. At the time of the war, with a year to go until the elections, Aznar probably believed it would be well behind him and forgotten. Such was not to be the case. A significant number of deaths among Spanish troops and intelligence officers, most notably an ambush killing seven CNI men, kept political opposition and social concern close to the top of the political agenda.

ETA (and anti-ETA) activity in the year

ETA caused a certain amount of concern during 2003, with particularly 'success' in the beach bombings of July, when a hotel and a language school were hit in Benidorm and Alicante. (More: Go ETA on this page) However, the majority of the news was about failed attempts of ETA to hit its targets and of an increasing number of arrests of significant members of the ETA control and logistics teams, as well as of actual killers. In particular, attempts to bomb the Chamartin rail station at Madrid failed at Christmas time both in 2002 and 2003. And on 28th February 2004 a van containing 500 kilos of explosive was discovered as it headed for Madrid, supposedly aiming for the satellite city of Alcalá de Henares, starting point for the bombers on the 3/11 trains.

2004 General Election campaign

The terrorism issue was one of the many elements of campaigning. The government of the Partido Popular justly claimed success in many areas of national 'progress', particularly the economy, but also the fight against ETA. However, the Socialists took the point of view that while police action had been effective, the regions of Spain had been increasingly alienated from Madrid and that the wishes of the population concerning Iraq had not been respected. The Socialists promised withdrawal from Iraq and a new approach to relationships within and outside Spain, if elected.

Nevertheless, the opinion polls consistently placed the Socialists behind the PP although it was believed that the overall majority of the PP would be lost, requiring the current government to enter into talks with regional parties, thus ending the period of arrogantly going it alone.

The events

11th March, the train bombings

At approximately 7.39 in the morning 13 bombs exploded on board 4 trains which were travelling along the commuter line from Alcalá de Henares into the Madrid station of Atocha. Three of the trains were standing at stations, Atocha itself, El Pozo and the last one at Santa Eugenia. About to enter Atocha was the fourth train. During the morning rush hour trains run along this line every five minutes, stopping at each halt.

It is interesting to note that the number of foreigners hit by the attacks was far in excess of the overall proportion of foreigners in the capital. This reflects the fact that it was precisely some of the poorer satellite cities and districts of Madrid which have a higher level of low-income residents which were hit. In particular, the district of Vallecas is famous throughout Spain as one of the major working class districts, where hundreds of thousands of national migrants arrived from their villages in the first six decades of the past century. El Pozo is likewise known as at one time the worst section of this district and has a particularly bad reputation for its drug addicts and gypsy settlements. In the 1950s this district was almost completely covered with shanties which gradually gave way to cheap housing. In the past 30 years the economic revolution has enabled a different quality of housing to grow up alongside the older cheap housing, but only very recently has there been much truly middle class housing in the Vallecas district or further out along the Alcala rail line.

As a result of the explosions, 190 were killed immediately and over the first week. A total of over 1800 were attended for injuries in hospitals, 160 remaining hospitalised after the first week. According to El País, among the dead were 9 evangelicals, another 15 being injured. These were all foreigners. The total number of nationalities affected was 14. Both these figures -for evangelicals and foreigners- is way above the national average.

In the immediate aftermath the city ground to a standstill as emergency services attempted to get the wounded to nearby hospitals, whose services also effectively collapsed.Medical staff had to stay on beyond their shifts to help in the chaos. Rail services on the affected line remained cancelled until Monday the 15th.

For more information, plus latest news, click here
or read this report (in Spanish) from El Mundo

The public reaction

Spaniards are incredible in showing emotions, but not, perhaps as you would expect. It is common to say they are hot-blodded people who express themselves loudly. However, the deepest emotions are expressed in silence. Thus the major demonstrations of 12th and 13th March were at least partially silent marches.

In addition, Spaniards are not afraid to gather in protest. 11.4 million, according to police estimates, met across Spain to demonstrate against the bombings. In Madrid alone, 2.3 million, virtually the entire population of the city or half that of the region, were present on the streets of the capital on the evening of the 12th.

The government response and police discoveries

The government was quick to suggest that ETA must be behind the bombings. This is not unusual, as we all expected that ETA would eventually succeed in an attack in Madrid, but the extent of the attack made us all ask big questions. On 18th, documents from the CNI (Spanish FBI) were released showing that while politicians may have held to the ETA theory for political reasons, the police continued to believe in the theory from habit, similarly distrusting alternatives.

As time went on and ETA denied involvement as much as Al Quaeda claimed responsibility, it became clear that government spokesmen could be attempting to cover up the evidence for electoral gain.

The police soon discovered a stolen van parked close to the station at Alcalá de Henares. It contained a detonator, such as those used by the bombers, together with a tape of Coranic verses. Together with the Al Quaeda claims to be responsible, we now had evidence indeed pointing in this direction. On the Saturday, three Moroccans, two Indians and two Spaniards of Indian origin were arrested for questioning. The police evidence was clearly leaning away from any ETA involvement.

The 14th March election

For the exact results of the election, click this link at El Mundo

It was a major surprise to all that the Socialist party (PSOE) gained a million votes more than the Partido Popular, thus winning a clear victory in the elections for the Congress. The effective draw for seats in the senate is another issue, which demands the collaboration of all the minor parties in securing the legislation of the future government.

It is now clear that the mood swing which produced this change of government was highly influenced by the opinion that the PP government had gone against the popular desires in getting involved in Iraq and also that it had attempted to cover up the Al Quaeda link during the three days of mourning.

Subsequently further accusations have been made that manipulation, lies and even an attempted coup d'etat, postponing the election, were made to recover the lost ground.

Had ETA been clearly behind the bombings, the hand of the PP would probably have been strengthened, as most Spaniards are very much against ETA's aspirations and certainly against its methods.

The consequences of the election: promises to be kept.

José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero, president-elect had promised to disengage from Iraq. Now, with such momentous events behind him and surprised by the ascent to power, Zapatero did not doubt but to announce he would fulfil this electoral promise.

It is obvious that Zapatero had not expected to win the elections. Even a week after the election, few ministers had been named for the future cabinet. Likewise, Zapatero was not immediately -nor will he be for some time- able to assess the consequences of the promises made. Yet he wished to point out that the promises had been made in the light of popular opinion over the year of Spanish involvement in Iraq, not as a result of the immediate terrorist threat or the bombing itself. It will remain to be seen whether this promise is kept after time for reflection and renegotiation of the treaties.

Arrests and the aftermath

By 27th March, 20 people had been arrested, most remaining under unconditional arrest, at least two of these being suspected of having placed the bombs. One, a Spaniard, was arrested (in fact he presented himself at to the police) in the mining region of Asturias and during questioning admitted stealing the explosive from his mine which was used in the attacks. Most have been charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and one with making the bombs. Further investigations have led to discovery of links with the Casablanca (Morocco) bombings last year and with financial and logistical support mechanisms in Britain, a flat in Germany, etc.. For a resumé of all the key suspects and evidence at 27th March, Go 'investigations' at this page (the news for March '04):

The mayor of Madrid has also announced the establishment of offices for the support of victims, offering psychological support in particular and for the encouragement of efforts to bring about the integration of the different clutures, races and religions. The Madrid City Mission, which is based in the immigrant district of Lavapies, where many of arrests took place, is well placed to be involved in this latter project.

For in-depth coverage, here is the BBC special report.
For the conclusions of the trials read The Guardian's report.

Evangelicals and the bombings

We have not heard of any local church members who were killed, but among the large number of immigrants affected (14 nationalities) were 9 evangelicals dead and 15 injured, according to El País. It is supposed that the majority of these were Romanians. Protestante Digital has confirmed the identity of two evangelicals (a Phillipino and a Brazilian) and believes another four were. A pastor's son was also injured.

We have this report of God's hand in protecting one family in particular, from Robin Pocklington of SEND International:

As we were writing this letter, the bombs went off in Madrid. As many of you have prayed for Spain over the years, join in giving thanks to God that none of the MK’s riding that train line that morning were killed or injured. The 3 Villanueva children left their home station ONE MINUTE before the (following) train exploded there killing 67 with 100’s severely injured, and 3 minutes before they arrived at the next station another train exploded killing 27 with many badly injured. They had to get out of the train and walk through the terrible sights. May God use this horrible atrocity to bring many to vital faith in Christ, our only hope.

Another missionary wrote saying his schedule had changed that day. Otherwise he would also have been on one of the trains.

Concerning the figures for foreign believers killed and injured, we have bumped up against a significant problem for evangelical statisticians. The trouble is that many of the immigrants are not well integrated into Spanish churches -see the immigrant page

The Spanish evangelical churches have published official statements
and some of it is in in English!
More can be found in English and Spanish by surfing the Protestante Digital 'hemeroteca' around these dates and numbers.

The Pray4Spain team used to live in the area of Santa Eugenia, some 200 yards from the affected station and regularly used the Sta Eugenia- Atocha rail route to reach the city centre. For example, you can read a poem written by one of the students at the Santa Eugenia High School (in Spanish)

Read the report of a doctor involved

An article in EAUK's Idea magazine (May/June '04) featured an interview with Dr. Pedro Tarquís, a Madrid medic who was involved in helping the injured at his hospital. He is also the Spanish EA's press officer and director of the ACPress news agency. It was not available online, but can be seen in the relevant printed version.

The official College of Psychologists of Madrid believes that over the coming 2 years, between ten and fifteen thousand people will need counselling. Pray for evangelical counsellors to get involved! See the El Mundo graphic.

Please read this page together with:

Tourist Security
The Basque problem

And current News