Two and a half years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., Spain is now mourning 190 people who died in one of the largest terrorist attacks ever on European soil. Beyond the human dimensions of the tragedy, the outrage shook up Spain's March 14 general elections, held three days after the bombs exploded on trains in and around Madrid. Contrary to all predictions, the Socialist Party (PSOE) snatched control of the government away from the conservative Popular Party (PP). The abrupt turnabout and continued fears of new terrorist episodes raise all sorts of questions: What will happen to the Spanish economy? What are the main goals of Spain's new chief executive? What repercussions will the terrorist attacks have outside of Spain?
None of the passengers traveling toward Atocha station in Madrid on the morning of March 11 could have imagined that 13 knapsacks filled with Tytadine were on their trains. At 7:39, 10 bombs exploded almost simultaneously in four suburban trains and explosives experts detonated another three. The latest official count: 190 dead and 1,430 wounded.
Instinctively, everyone – including the government and practically all public opinion pollsters – assumed that the massacre was the work of ETA, the [Basque] terrorist group which has already been held responsible for killing more than 800 people in Spain. Last Christmas Eve it attempted a similar attack in another downtown train station. Moreover, barely two weeks before March 11, the Spanish police detained two ETA terrorists who were on their way to Madrid loaded with more than 1,100 pounds of explosives.
Then within hours of the massacre, a van was discovered containing seven detonators and a tape with Arabic verses from the Koran, and officials began to wonder whether the crimes were committed by an Al Qaeda-sponsored Islamic terrorist group. The answer would have major political implications and a significant impact on the general elections scheduled to take place in just three days.
The Popular Party government had been harshly criticized by many for its support of America's war in Iraq. Voters appeared ready to deprive the PP of its absolute majority and force it to make compromises if it wanted to stay in office. However, if ETA were held responsible for the attacks, it would help the PP at the polls because of the party's traditional hard line in the struggle against Basque terrorists. Meanwhile, the main opposition Socialists party had always opposed the Iraq war and felt that many others, including, voters, agreed with that position. Yet it seemed impossible that they could wind up the winners in the election. All that changed when Al Qaeda was held responsible for the attacks and the idea gained momentum that getting involved in Iraq was a huge mistake for Spain.
On Friday, March 12, 11 million Spaniards took part in demonstrations against terrorism. On March 13, the day before the general elections, the first arrests took place, conclusively linking the attacks to the Islamic group. On March 14, the Socialists won the election despite all predictions to the contrary. Experts attributed the electoral upset to an erosion of support for the government's backing of the Iraq war.
It did not take long for markets around the world to react. In Spain, the IBEX-35 index suffered a 4 percent loss. The New York Stock Exchange closed with a drop of about 1.5 percent. In Germany, the Dax Xetra lost 3.46 percent. The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 3 percent and France's Cac 40 fell 2.97 percent. Overall, the trading sessions of "11-M" [March 11] were the worst in almost 10 months.
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