Spain launched a somber remembrance of the Madrid terror bombings on yesterday's second anniversary of the attacks, as a delegation from Morocco -- home to many of the suspects in the case -- observed a few minutes of silence at a rail station targeted in the massacre.
The 70-member delegation, called the Moroccan Caravan for Peace and Solidarity, set out from Morocco in buses on March 5, stopping in several Spanish cities before arriving at Atocha train station.
Members held a red Moroccan flag next to the red-and-yellow one of Spain as they stood in silence inside the station, one of four sites where 10 backpack bombs exploded exactly two years ago, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,500.
"We want to express our solidarity and support for the Spanish people and show that the Moroccan people are one of peace and against terrorism," said Mohamed Boujida, a delegation member.
He noted that Morocco itself was hit by Islamic terrorists in May 2003 with suicide attacks that killed 45 people, including the bombers.
The delegation deposited a wreath of red and white roses and carnations inside the station and wrote messages of condolence on a large-screen computer terminal set up at a memorial site inside the building.
The ceremony was the first of several scheduled for a day in which the normally festive atmosphere of a weekend in Spain will be replaced by heartbreaking memories of the morning of March 11, 2004.
The bombs, loaded with dynamite and shrapnel, turned crowded commuter trains into a maelstrom of bodies and body parts, twisted metal and wailing sirens.
Spain's version of Sept. 11 is etched so indelibly in Spaniards' memories that virtually everyone remembers where they were when they learned of the bombings, the frantic rescue efforts, the anguished search for missing loved ones.
"That day we all got a lesson in what is really important in life," said Bartolome Gonzalez, mayor of Alcala de Henares, a town through which all four of the doomed trains passed and home to 27 of those killed in the attacks.
Ceremonies were planned at other stations also hit by suspected Islamic terrorists who claimed to have acted on al-Qaeda's behalf.
Christians, Muslims and Jews were to join together for an ecumenical prayer service outside Atocha station, praying in unison for peace.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was due to attend a noontime wreath-laying ceremony, to be followed by five minutes of silence at the Forest of Remembrance -- a grove of 192 olive and cypress trees set up at a Madrid park in memory of the bombing victims.
The site originally had been called the Forest of the Absent, but an association of March 11 victims asked town hall to change the name, saying that their missing loved ones would never be absent even if they were dead.
As it did last year, that group -- the Association of Victims of March 11 -- was expected to mourn in silence. It was sending no official representative to the ceremony.
No one has been tried or even formally charged over the attack, but the judge leading the investigation said this week he expected to hand down the first indictments by April 10.
Unlike the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, which united Americans across political lines, the Madrid bombings proved to be acutely divisive.