11-M: Madrid 2004

AP Photo/ Paul White Filles

"The scenes of horror and sadness in Madrid ... evoked the tragic images of Manhattan on September 11 ... the same faces of desolation, the same spontaneous solidarity, the same paralyzed traffic, the same gridlocked hospitals, and the same blank looks of incomprehension.”

                    Translated Excerpt from El Mundo Editorial
                    (The Guardian, March 13, 2004)

Just two and a half years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Spain experienced the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Spanish history.

The March 11, 2004, bombing of four Madrid trains (referred to across Europe as 11-M) crowded with commuters killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800. In addition to the carnage, the blasts resulted in major psychological and political repercussions throughout the country.


07:37 a.m.: First bomb explodes on train #21431 at Atocha station.

07:38 a.m.: Two additional bombs explode within four seconds of each other on train #21431 at Atocha station. Two bombs explode in different carriages on train #21435, which was departing El Pozo del Tio Raimundo station. One bomb explodes on train #21713 at Santa Eugenia station.

07:39 a.m.: Four bombs explode in different carriages of train #17305 at Calle Tellez, just 800 meters from Atocha station.

On March 11, 2004, ten explosions occurred on four rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid, Spain. The trains were travelling on the same line, from the Alcalá de Henares station situated 19 miles from Madrid to the Atocha station in the city. The bombs, consisting of dynamite and nails hidden in backpacks and controlled by cell phones, detonated between 7:37 a.m. and 7:40 a.m., killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800 others. Three additional bombs, which failed to activate, were later found by Spanish authorities.

The city immediately went on high alert, suspending train service and most transit lines and mobilizing emergency rescue personnel and equipment. Bus drivers transformed their vehicles into makeshift ambulances; field hospitals were created to care for the wounded; and the health authority activated the disaster emergency plan.

“The people still alive in the trains were too injured to move and too stunned to talk. They nearly all had burst eardrums. We would ask what was wrong with them, but they didn't answer. They pleaded for help with their eyes, by looking at you.”

                    Ervigio Corral, emergency and rescue chief, 44, Madrid 
                    (The Observer Magazine, Dec. 19, 2004)

As sadness and solidarity pervaded the city, citizens lined up to donate blood. The dead were taken to a Madrid hospital, Ifema, for identification. The 191 victims represented 17 different countries. 

As the day progressed, millions of Spaniards crowded city streets in protest and mourning. That evening, at 6 p.m., Spanish television stations replaced their corporate logos with a black ribbon overlaid on the Spanish flag as a tribute to the victims. 

Across the globe, nations reacted to the attacks and to the possibility of al-Qaeda–inspired terrorism in Europe. Terror alerts were raised across the continent and around the world. In the United States, a moment of silence was observed in the U.S. Senate and a vigil was held in New York City. The European Parliament declared March 11 a European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Terrorism.