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11-M, an indelible memory

It is 20 years since the biggest terrorist attack in Spain. The Islamist attack that killed 193 people marked an entire country and today we explore that memory.

AUTOR 16/Daniel_Hofkamp MADRID 11 DE MARZO DE 2024 16:20 h
At the central Atocha station, the panels recall the attacks that took place 20 years ago in Madrid. / Photo: [link]Comunidad de Madrid[/link].

On the morning of 11 March 2004, a series of explosions on several city trains in Madrid brought time to a standstill for an entire country. The biggest attack on Spanish soil killed 193 people and injured 1,891 others. An Al-Qaeda jihadist cell had planned a massive carnage on several trains at rush hour in the morning.

Those painful events marked the memory of thousands of people. Spanish news website Protestante Digital spoke to evangelical Christians in Madrid who told us how they lived through those difficult days exactly 20 years ago.


What do you remember about that day?

Pedro Tarquis was working at the time as an emergency doctor at Madrid’s Hospital Clínico, so he was in the front line of care for the victims of the attack. “I remember the image of the first wounded who arrived at the emergency room of the hospital, who were on a regular line bus. The sight of a public bus arriving at the door of the ER and more and more injured people getting off was a totally surreal image that gave an idea of the magnitude of the attack. It was the closest thing to a war”, Tarquis recalls.

He was in charge of the hospital’s medical information almost up to the minute (names of the injured, the dead, diagnosis and prognosis), in coordination with the regional government. “Late in the afternoon I remember the calls from friends and acquaintances, many brothers and sisters in faith, asking me for the names of their relatives, and at that time those who did not appear were either in hospitals or unidentified among the victims of the terrorist attack. Of the fifteen or twenty calls I received, only in one case was I able to say that the person missing was in hospital with us and alive”.

[destacate]“I have images of that morning coming back to me. Faces of people who got on the train at the same time as me and who never got off”[/destacate] José Manuel Lozano was in the neighbourhood of Atocha when the first explosion occurred. Today he tells his story knowing that he could have been one of the victims. “Images of that morning come back to me; faces of people who got on the train at the same time as me and never got off, and of a chaotic way out of the station, while other bombs exploded minutes later”.

Another doctor, Orlando Enríquez, remembers watching it on television. “We watched the confusion of those moments... I remember the feeling of vulnerability, as my wife worked nearby, although she was not there at the time. The concern for my fellow citizens at Atocha station, talking to relatives, not knowing if I could help in any direct way. I also remember the feeling of anger and indignation towards those who caused the massacre”, says Enríquez.

In the case of Beni Moreno, a journalist, the memory is of daily life interrupted. “I remember being shocked” when she realised what was happening across the city. “At the time, my husband and I were alternating the care of our one-and-a-half-year-old son. I was waiting for my husband to wake up (he worked at night) so that I could go to work, while the child was watching cartoons. Then they interrupted the tv schedule and I watched everything on tv”.

Faith in the midst of the trial

For some of our interviewees, 11-M had profound implications for their vision of life and the Christian faith. “At first I had to internalise the drama and link it to faith in an Almighty, Sovereign God the Father”, says José Manuel Lozano, who was an elder in an evangelical church. “It is an experience that cannot be described in a few words. The challenge of faith and of the community of believers was and is to respond and live according to the purpose and good will of the Lord”, especially in circumstances such as those of that day.

For Beni Moreno, the “hand of God” was present at every moment. “My husband could have been on one of those trains if he hadn’t changed jobs some months before so that he could reconcile the care of our eldest son. It was the first thing I thought of, and I said to him: ‘Fernando, you would have been there’...”.

[destacate]“The presence of evil is always a mystery”[/destacate]The question ‘where is God?’ is a common one when faced with situations that are difficult to explain. “The presence of evil is always a mystery, and I don’t want to fall into simplistic answers”, reflects Orlando Enríquez. “I could say that ‘God protected some of us’ and that’s true, but I immediately think of the victims and their families and the mystery of ‘why did it happen to some and not to others’. Then I am always reminded of what I learned from others: ‘suffering is not so much a question that requires an answer, but a mystery that demands a presence’. So it is a matter of being at the side of those who suffer”.

[photo_footer]Plaques in memory of the victims of 11-M./Madrid City Council[/photo_footer].

However, even in the midst of so much pain, light can be found. “In extreme situations like this one, you experience that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God”, says Tarquis. “The sick who were in the emergency room because of their ailments voluntarily left their space so that the injured in the attack could be attended to (except in serious cases). All the health workers who were off duty stayed, many offered to continue their day in the afternoon.... It was an immense wave of solidarity that enveloped us all”.

[destacate]“In situations like this you see that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God”[/destacate]In that experience, Tarquis recalls experiencing “a strength I never thought I would have. I was on duty, and I stayed there all day, without stopping, almost without eating. And it was like a dream and a sigh, although at the end I collapsed when I got home”. At the same time, “you consider the reality of life and death in a way you’ve never done before. You are aware that all this is temporary and that the time of life is a loan that God gives us so that we can invest the best of ourselves”.

The Christian message in the face of pain, says Orlando Enríquez, “is that God knows what the ultimate suffering is for love of us, both there on the cross and here and now, and that we are not alone on the hard road of life, having the hope that not everything ends here”.


20 years on, what have we as a society learned?

On the twentieth anniversary of the attack, there has been a succession of reports in the Spanish press and on television, documentaries, exhibitions and books about what happened. The attack cannot be detached from a socio-political reality that Spain was going through and which, after that attack, produced a wound that in many respects is still open.

Have we learned anything valuable from that situation? “No”, answers José Manuel Lozano. “It may seem a radical response. Of course, there are people and groups who have been sensitised and committed since the tragedy. It is a mixture of sadness to have experienced on other anniversaries the division in the celebrations, or the unfair distribution of official subsidies between different victims’ associations that I have known personally. We continue to be a polarised society, we are experiencing this at the moment, and it is very regrettable not to experience a unity that is the product of deep and fraternal reflection in the face of such extraordinary dramas”, concludes José Manuel.

Orlando Enríquez expresses himself in a similar vein. “I am a hopeful pessimist”, he says. “Unfortunately, the political level is always contaminated by the greed for power. The days after the Islamist attack, “we witnessed the sad spectacle of everyone trying to make a profit for themselves, against each other, which always gives me a few moments of existential nausea”. However, there is also something to be salvaged: “I know that among the citizens there were bonds of solidarity and that we were all dismayed together at this barbarity. I know that there is a before and an after in the city of Madrid (and in the world) after attacks like this one”.

[destacate]“It brought us face to face with death, but we are very forgetful”[/destacate] For Beni Moreno, the death of so many in only one morning “conditioned us, as the pandemic has done, for some time”. As a society we learned to “see our vulnerability, it made us show solidarity, and it brought us face to face with death. But I think we are very forgetful, we soon return to normality and, even if we don’t forget completely, we live as if we no longer remember the great values that are born as a consequence of tragedies, such as appreciation for life, solidarity, and how much we need to recognise our dependence on God”.

Pedro Tarquis agrees. “We don't learn, we forget quickly. We are addicted to futility, which we inject into ourselves through screens, through consumerism...”, he laments. Although he believes that it is precisely through such dramatic incidents that “God speaks to us as if they were a loudspeaker, fundamentally to make us realise the fragility of the human being, the insecurity of the things we take for granted, the futility of almost everything we consider so important and which in reality are so little at the moment of truth”.

“I only hope”, Tarquis concludes, “that at least the memory has remained, the impression in the memory, that everything we see, hear, taste and experience is meaningless and empty without the presence of God in our lives”.


[title]One more year[/title]


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Learn all about our #OneMoreYearEF campaign here (English).





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