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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 11:13 GMT
Madrid relives horror of attacks
Residents of Madrid are still traumatised and astonished by the bomb blasts which ripped through trains in the city on 11 March 2004, the BBC's Katya Adler reports.

Passengers in Madrid
Madrid life has started to get back to normal

"It's criminal, just criminal, these people must be stopped."

Lucia Sutil, a psychologist treating a number of the Madrid bombing victims, was shaking when I came to see her.

But she wasn't worked up about the bombers.

She had journalists in mind.

"I've just finished a one an a half hour conversation with one of my patients. As if it wasn't enough that these poor people are facing the one year anniversary of the attacks, they're hounded by journalists, hungry for blood.

"Those who force them back onto trains, so they can film the fear in their eyes. Those who ask them painful questions to squeeze photogenic tears out them.

"The journalist, happy with their story, then disappears off, leaving the bomb victim devastated. That's when I get to pick up the pieces.

"I hope you're not like that," she added, eyeing me suspiciously.

Painful reminder

I assured her I wasn't, although I admitted that like everyone these days in Madrid, I was interested in talking to the survivors of the Madrid bombings and to the families of those who died.

This is after all the first anniversary of Spain's worst terrorist atrocity. One hundred and ninety one people died and more than 1,800 were wounded when 10 bombs went off onboard four packed commuter trains.

All I know is I lost my only son Daniel in the carnage. Nothing anyone says can explain or justify that pain
Pilar Manjon

"They say time heals all wounds," Lucia said. "But sometimes that's just not true. Most of my patients are fleeing Madrid on the bombing anniversary. Their memories are just too painful. One year on from the attacks, they still dream and smell death.

"The bombs devastated the whole of Spain - but imagine if your life was torn apart that day. How would you feel right now? On every newspaper, every TV and radio channel - bombs, blood, terror, that's all anyone is talking about at the moment."

But it's not just the media. Spaniards all over the country are reliving the horror of the Madrid train attacks as the anniversary approaches.

Scene of carnage

At the hairdresser's, Marta, one of the trainees, held everyone enthralled, stylists and clients alike, as she described her brother coming home dripping with blood.

"My mother screamed because she thought he'd been hurt, but he'd just arrived at the station when the bomb went off and had then rushed in to help," she said.

Jose Rodriguez and Victor Moldean
Survivor and saviour: Jose and Victor have become friends since the attacks

"It wasn't his blood on his clothes. Once we got over the shock and my brother had quickly got changed, we all ran to El Pozo station. It's just round the corner from our home and we wanted to help.

"What we saw there didn't seem real - more like one of those cheap horror movies. There was blood and body parts everywhere. People were hysterical. It took me ages to start using trains again."

"You should be careful though, rushing in to help like that," said Maria, a hairdresser from the Dominican Republic.

"Three of my countrymen were killed in the bombs. One of them was the flatmate of a friend of mine. She called from Atocha station that morning to say she was OK. That she'd been on the train but had survived the bomb. She stayed to help the injured though and was killed in the next explosion."

"It's always the poor working people that get hit hard," her colleague Vicky muttered bitterly. "All three stations that got hit. It was the obreros - the working classes, Spaniards and immigrants that suffered. We were made to pay for the sins of our high and mighty politicians."

Political football

The conversation then descended into a loud row across the washbasins as to whether the bombs were the fault of Spain's former conservative government who sent peacekeeping troops to Iraq against the wishes of the majority of Spaniards.

Since it seems the attacks were largely carried out by Moroccans, I meet with little sympathy
Moroccan immigrant injured in attacks

"What do I care about the politics?" asked Pilar Manjon, speaking from her office at the Association for the Victims of the Madrid Bombings, where she is president.

"We lost our loved ones - our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our lovers and friends - meanwhile all our politicians worried about was losing face.

"They've bickered and bickered about who was to blame for the bombings and who may have manipulated them to win Spain's general election three day later. They've used our misery, our personal tragedies, as a political football. It's shameful."

For that reason, the Association of Madrid Bombing Victims says it has decided to boycott all the events planned by the Spanish authorities to mark the one year anniversary of the attacks.

Jose Rodriguez, a security guard severely hurt in the bombings, says he never saw the point in seeking public justice or revenge.

"The bombs almost killed me," he says, as we walk through a park near his home. "I'm now determined to live my life to the full, with my wife and my kids. I refuse to look back."

Support

What really helped Jose on the road to recovery though, he says, was tracking down the man who saved his life.

Mosque in Madrid
Hostility towards Muslims after the attacks has eased

"I was lying on the platform bleeding to death. And then out of the smoke came this man. He spoke to me in broken Spanish - told me that everything would be OK. He bandaged my leg with his shirt and then he disappeared. Later in the hospital the doctors told me they'd have to amputate my leg. I became obsessed with finding the man who saved my life. I felt I could face anything then."

As a Moldovan immigrant, recently arrived in Spain, Victor Moldean preferred at first to remain anonymous.

"At first I didn't want to get involved but then one night on TV I saw Jose in his hospital bed with tears in his eyes, appealing for me to come forward, so I contacted him and since then, we're like brothers."

"In fact I have to thank Victor for two things," says Jose. "Firstly for saving my life, at risk to his own. Everyone who could, was running away from the train after the explosion. He stayed to help. And secondly I thank him for giving me the chance to stop being just another victim and to become a saviour instead."

Since meeting Victor Moldean, Jose helped him obtain visas for his two children to leave Moldova and to come and live with him in Madrid.

"The Spanish people really have opened their arms to the victims of the Madrid train bombings, with one blatant exception," says a Moroccan immigrant, who prefers not to be named and who was caught in the Atocha station blast.

"I can't sleep at night. I have pills to calm my nerves, but since it seems the attacks were largely carried out by Moroccans, I meet with little sympathy."

Plea to remember

We're speaking in a tearoom in Lavapies, the downtown Madrid neighbourhood, largely inhabited by immigrants. Just around the corner is the previously Moroccan-owned shop where the suspected Madrid train bombers bought the phone cards allegedly used to detonate the explosives.

All of Spain was travelling in those bombed out trains that day. It was an attack against us all
Mari-Angeles Pedraza

"Things were pretty tense after the Madrid train attacks but most Spaniards know to differentiate between a Muslim and a crazy extremist," says Kamuni Abdel Jalach, a former Imam in one of the small Lavapies mosques.

"This country has a long history of Muslim culture and Muslim rule. Spaniards understand that Islam preaches peace, not murder. One year after the Madrid bombings, things have more or less got back to normal for us here."

At rush-hour in Atocha station, with platforms as busy and as bustling as they were before train attacks, it would appear this city really has returned to normality - although a memorial at the station serves as a permanent reminder of the bombing victims.

"We just ask that you don't forget them," says Mari-Angeles Pedraza, whose 25-year-old daughter was killed in the attacks.

"Miryam was full of life and hope, she was recently married. It could happen to you, it could happen to anyone."


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