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Spain Honors Terror Victims on Anniversary of Train Bombing


Spain is in mourning one year after train bombings that took the lives of 191 people and injured nearly 2000. Foreign dignitaries joined Spain's monarch and government officials for the main commemorative event in the city's main park.

Spaniards throughout the country held silent vigils at noon in memory of the victims of bombs placed aboard commuter trains heading for Madrid's Atocha station one year ago.

In Madrid bells from the town hall and 650 churches in and around the city pealed at 7:37 in the morning, the minute the first of the bombs placed in four trains went off.

But the main commemorative ceremony took place in Madrid's central Retiro Park near the train station. There, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia led government officials, and foreign dignitaries in a memorial ceremony.

They gathered to observe five minutes of silence before a grove of 192 olive and cypress trees planted in memory of the 191 victims aboard the trains and a policemen killed when the al-Qaida-linked suspects blew themselves up to escape arrest three weeks later. As they stood in silence only the sound of security helicopters above and the clicking of cameras could be heard.

Among the foreign dignitaries present were U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Presidents Jorge Sampaio of Portugal and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and the ambassadors of 16 countries whose citizens were also killed in the train bombings. Many of these dignitaries had arrived earlier in the week to attend an international conference on terrorism, which closed on Thursday evening.

The memorial ceremony concluded with a performance by a young cellist who played The Song of the Birds, adapted from a Catalan folk song by Pablo Casals.

The Madrid train bombings took place shortly before Spanish general elections last year. In a videotape, Muslim militants said they carried out the attacks in retaliation for the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq sent there by the center-right government of José Maria Aznar against the wishes of a large majority of Spaniards.

The government blamed the Basque terrorist group ETA for the bombing and many voters took this as an attempt to shift attention from the possible al-Qaida connection to the attacks. The Socialists, who had staunchly opposed Spanish involvement in Iraq, were voted into power on March 14, and Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero ordered the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq soon afterwards.