On March 11, 2004, one of the largest terrorist attacks in European history took place in Madrid, Spain. On that deadly Thursday morning, during the city’s busy rush hour, terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda detonated a series of bombs along Madrid’s commuter train system in an unprecedented coordinated attack. A total of 191 people were killed and around 2,000 were injured.
Now 18 years later, many of the survivors come together in the new Netflix documentary “11M: Terror in Madrid”. The film not only covers the horrendous attacks, but also the government’s handling of the investigation that followed and the various conspiracy theories that sprang up. And of course it examines the lasting impact the bombings have had on the city and on those who lived through it yet are still haunted by the trauma.
Director Jose Gomez covers a lot of ground in this documentary that delves into the violence of the attacks, the queasy politics, the media’s part in spreading disinformation, and the investigation that finally rooted out the real perpetrators. Gomez even goes back in time as far as 1994, showing the roots of the Al-Qaeda cell in Spain that eventually carried out the horrendous attacks. All together it tells a sobering, enlightening, and infuriating true story.
For those not familiar with the meticulously planned attack, Gomez opens the movie by giving a detailed timeline of the events. He starts with survivors sharing how March 11th began as just another normal day. From there, the same people painful recall the detonations in crowded train stations as wagons begin exploding across the route. Gomez’s approach is sensitive yet also revealing. And we get an even fuller image of the devastating injuries and loss of life through the accounts of first responders, many of whom steal bear the scars of that horrific day.
But a bigger focus is put on the aftermath, mainly the government’s determined efforts to place the blame for the bombings on the Basque separatist group ETA. Designated as a terrorist group, the ETA made for an easy but also beneficial culprit for President José María Aznar. The problem is, there was no evidence linking the ETA with the attacks. But that didn’t stop Aznar and his cabinet from using the media to push their ETA ruse despite growing evidence pointing to Islamist radicals as those responsible.
Gomez lays out the politics behind Aznar’s actions and shows how it not only managed to influence the investigation but also the upcoming election. It’s truly appalling stuff. But Gomez makes sure the victims aren’t overshadowed by the unfathomable acts of the government and media. He circles back to them in the final minutes to ensure we remember those who suffered most. It’s the right move and it helps the movie anchor our emotions on top of opening our eyes to how ambitious leadership will go to any lengths to hand onto power. “11M: Terror in Madrid” is now streaming on Netflix.