’11M: Terror In Madrid’ Explained: Why Did The Government Blame ETA?


On March 11th, 2004, when the family members of many Madrid residents were leaving home, little did they know that it would be the last time that they would see them. “11M: Terror in Madrid,” a documentary directed by Jose Gomez, documents the horrors of that fateful day and its aftermath, which changed the country’s political discourse.

Early in the morning, Sta Eugenia Station, El Pozo Station, Tellez Street, and Atocha Station were shaken by the train bombings. The people could not decipher what had actually happened. All of a sudden, the people were surrounded by dismembered limbs, blood, and utter chaos. When the rescue team arrived, they didn’t know where to begin as what they were seeing was mass carnage. The first impulse of the people, in general, was that ETA was behind the attack. The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, a.k.a. ETA, was a terrorist group active in the region and started a rebellion at the end of the 1960s for the independence of the Basque region, in Northern Spain. The President of the Basque Country also condemned the attacks and held ETA responsible for them.

Over the years, Partido Popular, the ruling party, was able to curb the activities of ETA, and at the time when the bombings happened, the terrorist organization was at its weakest. Many people wondered whether planting 13 bombs on 4 trains that required a large amount of manpower, resources, and strategy, would be carried out by an organization like ETA. The style of attack was also quite different from that of ETA.

An emergency meeting was called by the Partido Popular, but the astonishing thing was that the chief of the national intelligence service, Jorge Dezcallar, was not invited to take part in it.

General Elections were supposed to be held three days after the attack, and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar saw it as the perfect opportunity to take leverage.

Why Did The Government Want To Blame ETA? 

From Terror Carnage in Madrid, the headline of the newspaper was changed to ETA Carnage in Madrid, recalls an employee of a Spanish newspaper. For any government to spread propaganda that helps their cause, having a media house on their side is of the utmost significance. RTVE (Radio Television Espanola) was controlled by the national government, and they did the needful. One of the most widely read Spanish newspapers, “Ek Mundo” published one of the most deceptive conspiracy theories: that the ETA and the Muslim extremist group were working together. The fourth pillar of democracy failed citizens while assisting the ruling party’s agenda. To get more credibility, the government asked the United Nations to support their proposition, i.e., the attacks were carried out by ETA. After George Bush applauded the Spanish government and took their side, CNN broke the news that Al Qaeda had taken responsibility for the attacks.

Back in 2003, President Bush decided to wage war against Iraq, together with the U.K. and Spain

For the first time, the general population showed an interest in matters of foreign affairs. Everybody, in unison, felt that Spain didn’t have to participate in the war. What they didn’t know at that time was, one year later, in 2004, this newfound role of the Spanish government was going to become one of the reasons behind the attack.

The main reason behind blaming ETA was that Jose Maria Aznar had supported the Iraq invasion, and the citizens had vehemently criticized it at that point. Elections were just a couple of days away, and the ruling party didn’t want to be blamed for an attack carried out by the Muslim extremist group. So, even after Al Qaeda took responsibility, Angel Acebes, member of the right wing party told the press that the point of investigation was still ETA. The people realized that the government was hiding something. They thought that they at least deserved to know the truth. Huge protests erupted on the streets of Spain, with chants of “who was it” becoming increasingly loud, while the government maintained its narrative that it was the work of ETA.

The Al Qaeda Conspiracy: Explained 

Abu Dahdah was the leader of the Madrid Al Qaeda Cell, the foundation of which was laid in 1994 itself. Abu Dahdah was able to procure resources, and then he gave aid to Abu Qatada in London. With that money, individuals were sent to Afghanistan for training. Almost a couple of months before 9/11, a jihadist told Abu Dahdah that they had entered the aviation field. The existing Al-Qaeda cells in Spain provided support to the operation that was aimed at destroying the Twin Towers.

Mohamed Atta, leader of the 9/11 attacks, was in contact with Abu Dahdah. The “Datil Operation” was launched to put an end to the Spanish All Qaeda cell. Though most of the members were caught, Amir Azizi, second in command to Abu Dahdah, fled to Afghanistan. The plan of launching an attack against Spain was brought into conception back then. In Turkey in 2002, Amir Azizi laid out the blueprint of his plan in front of the high officials of Al Qaeda. So the fears of Jose Maria Aznar were not entirely true. He wanted to link the attacks with ETA as he thought that some criminals were radicalized by the Iraq war and that it had led to the 11 million attacks. And considering his government supported the Iraq war, he would be held responsible, but the situation was much more complex. It was Abu Dahdah’s cell members, together with local radicalized criminals and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, that had led to the attacks. When the 11M trials started, the accused were classified according to their role in the attack. Not everybody was charged under a common umbrella. But the court failed to link the conspiracy as a whole to a particular person or organization. It was unable to find an answer to the question of who initiated the proceedings, who was the mastermind.

The Conclusion

Amidst all the chaos, the political tussle, the want for power, the rebellion, and the greed, everybody forgot the people who had lost everything in the attacks. Often, in such a case, it is the common man who suffers. In this case, they didn’t only suffer; they were deceived too. The nations carried out their vendettas, but everyone cared about that mom whose son never returned, those kids who became orphans, and most importantly, those who survived and had to live with the trauma and the scars forever. It made everybody realize how fickle life can be. In times like these, you realize how important it is to be compassionate. Be it throwing blankets from their windows to cover the victims, or holding the hand of someone so that they could die in peace, the people of Spain somewhere set an example for the rest of the world. They showed that a small act of kindness could make a world of difference.

“11M: Terror in Madrid” is a 2022 Documentary Film directed by Jose Gomez.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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