11-M: 10 YEARS ON

Victims put aside 10 years of differences over 11-M to remember loved ones

Association heads had agreed to aim for headlines of unity rather than division

The four heads of the victims associations, pictured together at Tuesday's Mass. From l-r: Ángeles Domínguez, Pilar Manjón, Ángeles Pedraza and María del Mar Blanco.
The four heads of the victims associations, pictured together at Tuesday's Mass. From l-r: Ángeles Domínguez, Pilar Manjón, Ángeles Pedraza and María del Mar Blanco.GERARD JULIEN / AFP

As they observed the 10th anniversary of the Madrid train bombings on Tuesday, there was a call by the survivors and the families of the victims for closure, and to put behind them the years of conspiracy theories that had divided them for so long.

After 10 years of bitter discrepancies over who was to blame for the commuter train bombings that killed 191 people, Pilar Manjón and Ánglese Pedraza – the presidents of the 11-M Victims Association and Association for Terrorism Victims (AVT), respectively – appeared in public for the first time since the March 11, 2004 tragedy.

They spoke several months ago and had agreed that they wanted the headline from this anniversary to be one of unity not divisions. The conspiracy theories as to whether ETA or an Al Qaeda cell was directly responsible for the bombings had divided them.

The Popular Party (PP) government in office at the time had insisted it was ETA but later judicial investigations showed at a group of Islamic extremists ordered the attack in retaliation to Spain’s participation in the Iraq War.

Fueled by newspaper reports published by El Mundo, one bizarre conspiracy theory that emerged alleged that Spanish intelligence officials, who were partial to the Socialists, allowed the train bombings to happen to help pave the way for the Socialists to take government in elections that were held four days later.

El Mundo also published a series of reports affirming that the explosives used were similar to the type that ETA had used in the past. The courts debunked that theory.

But regardless of what the courts have ruled, the conspiracy theories were mentioned in an albeit vague reference made by the archbishop of Madrid during the Mass on Tuesday.

“People died because there were persons, with a cold-calculating premeditation, who were willing to kill the innocent with the aim of obtaining their dark objectives of winning power,” said Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela at the ceremony.

Manjón, who would have preferred a non-religious ceremony given that 34 percent of those killed and injured were migrants and belonged other faiths, said she attended the Mass in memory for the victims. When reporters asked her what she thought of Rouco’s comments, specifically the “dark objective” reference, she said: “I have nothing to say about this. I do want to say that people who belong to other faiths were invited.”

Former PP Prime Minister José María Aznar, who personally called up media heads the day of the tragedy to convince them it was ETA, continues to believe that there was a conspiracy behind the attack.

“I have asked myself what would have happened if I had called the elections on March 7 [instead of the 14]. And I have concluded that the attacks would have taken place on the 4th because those attacks were not just aimed at killing people but throwing the elections,” he told an investigating committee years back.