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Abroad students react to tragedy

Sheila Flynn | Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students studying in Spain were unharmed in Thursday’s terrorist bombings in Madrid, said international studies coordinators at both schools.

“We actually had a staff member in Spain at the time who found out before we did,” said Thomas Bogenschild, Notre Dame’s director of international studies.

“She called the Fundación, where the students are based, and talked to the administrators there.”

The Fundación Ortega y Gasset staff accounted for all students studying in Toledo, both from Notre Dame and other schools, and posted an update on its Web site to inform friends and family members that none of the students were injured. Notre Dame’s international studies Web site also posted a security update about the bombings and provided links to various news outlets and other relevant sites.

Gerald Gringas, of the Saint Mary’s modern languages department, said the College has also confirmed that all girls studying in Seville are fine.

“Everyone’s there,” Gringas said, adding that he had just received an e-mail from the program in southern Spain outlining security procedures.

While it appears no students were present at the blast site when the bombings occurred, the proximity of the attacks hit chillingly close to home, said junior Alissa Mendoza, currently studying in Notre Dame’s Toledo program.

“I’d been in the Atocha station like 12 hours before that,” said Mendoza, who was visiting Seville when the attacks took place.

“A lot of people had just been in that station, or rode the Metro the day before,” she said.

Ten bombs, hidden in backpacks, exploded Thursday morning in a 15-minute time period, devastating four commuter trains, one in Atocha station, a Madrid rail hub. Two hundred people were killed and nearly 1,500 hundred were wounded. Police found and detonated three other bombs.

Mendoza said the degree of mourning and shock felt by the Spanish people is overwhelming. The explosions constituted the worst terrorist attack on Spanish soil in the country’s history.

“I feel very emotional for my family that I live with and their friends,” she said, adding that she knows several people whose host families had relatives killed in the attacks..

She said that the number of dead and wounded is significant for any nation, but for Spain, which is comparable in population to the size of several American states, the toll is devastating.

And Mendoza said the backlash she and other students witnessed against the country’s leader, Jose Maria Aznar, was intense. Aznar, despite vehement opposition from the Spanish public, supported Bush in the war and sent Spanish troops to Iraq. He has since been ousted, replaced by a Socialist leader this weekend in the country’s general elections.

“It’s really sad that a lot of these people feel like they shouldn’t have been involved, and obviously they were, and they just feel like the government really has been

lying to them,” Mendoza said.

While the Spanish government initially blamed ETA, a separatist terrorist group within the country, for the bombings, more evidence is beginning to point to Islamic terrorists. And because there is “more proof,” Mendoza said, the Spanish people with whom she has spoken now feel Muslim extremists perpetrated the attacks as revenge for Spanish support of America’s involvement in Iraq.

Some anger, she said, is also directed at Americans, themselves.

“One of my friends actually said that her boss got really upset at her today

because she was American,” Mendoza said. “I, personally, haven’t been treated any differently … but the boss said, ‘You know, it’s your fault.'”