During the early stages of the second Iraq war, Spain provided the sixth largest contingent of forces in what George Bush had dubbed the ‘Alliance of the Willing’. On October 18 2003, a message purporting to be from Osama bin Laden threatened reprisals against Spain, Britain and Australia among other allies of America. It was a message of defiance – al-Qaeda wanted to show that not only could it open up a new front against the West in Iraq but that it could also bring the war back to the countries ranged against it.
At some time on or before March 14 2004, 13 bag bombs were loaded onto four commuter trains at Alcala de Henares Station, some 32 km (20 mi) from Madrid. The mobile phones used as their timing devices were set to go off when the trains were standing at stations en mute, with the aim of causing maximum loss of life during the morning rush hour. Within a few minutes of each other, ten of the bombs exploded. Three of the trains were at stations, the other was just outside. Scores of people were killed and many hundreds more injured. It was the biggest loss of life through terrorism in Europe since the Lockerbie disaster of 1988.
With a general election just days away, the ruling conservatives sought to blame the Basque Separatist group ETA for the attack and arrests were made. However, it soon became clear that this was the work of Islamic extremists who, although not working for al-Qaeda, had taken their cue from Osama bin Laden. Just one month later, seven of the main suspects were killed in an explosion in a Madrid apartment when surrounded by police.
When: March 11 2004
Where: El Pozo del Tio Raimundo, Caile Tellez, Santa Eugenia and Atocha Stations, Madrid, Spain
Death toll: 191 dead; more than 2,000 injured.
You should know: Although the majority of the victims were Spanish, people from 17 different countries were among the dead, including South Americans, Eastern Europeans and North Africans. Twenty-one people were tried and convicted for their part in the bombings.