Terrorist victims gather for conference

Israeli lawyer Arthur Roth lost his 15-year-old daughter Malki in a Jerusalem suicide blast. Kenneth Thompson’s mother died in the Oklahoma City bombing. Spanish journalist Irene Villa lost both legs in an Eta bombing 15 years ago.

The three joined hundreds of other relatives and survivors at a two-day international conference on victims of terrorism in the Mediterranean port city of Valencia today.

Many were in wheelchairs, or had limbs missing. Nearly all brought stories of heartache.

“When you bring terrorism victims together, you find that we have a common language, a common pain,” said Roth, whose daughter died in 2002. “Terrorism has changed almost everything in my life, and since then I remind people, even in my country, how essential it is to stop terrorism.”

Roth said he remembered his daughter as someone whose smile was so big “it left no room for her eyes.”

“Terrorism goes beyond politics and that’s what victims are totally aware of,” he added.

Organisers of the conference – called the International Congress on Victims of Terrorism and sponsored by Spain’s private San Pablo CEU University – say their goal is essentially to let victims meet each other and draw the attention of governments and society in general to their needs.

The summit was attended by survivors and relatives of those killed in Sept. 11, the Beslan school seizure in Russia, the London transport bombings in July and attacks in Colombia, Spain and elsewhere.

Thompson, whose mother was the last victim of the Oklahoma City bombing whose body was identified, said the sights and smells of what happened that day in 1995 are still fresh in his mind. He said all of those present at the conference shared a tragic connection, regardless of their background.

“Through the pain we have an unspoken bond,” he said. “We owe it to our loved ones to care about other victims regardless of their country, culture or faith.”

Monday’s morning session included a round table discussion with international victims, and there were sessions scheduled to discuss Basque separatist terrorism in Spain, and another on leftist rebel attacks in Colombia.

The first Congress on Victims of Terrorism was held in Madrid in 2004, six weeks before the March 11 train bombings in the Spanish capital, which killed 191 people and injured another 1,500. The second was held last year in Bogota, the Colombian capital.

Thompson said victims around the world have similar needs, from a desire for justice and access, to medical and mental health care to job retraining for those badly injured or traumatised.

“We, the victims, know about tears, about anger but also about courage,” said Maite Pagazaurtundua, a representative of Spanish victims whose brother was killed by Basque separatist group ETA in 2003.

ETA has claimed responsibility for 800 deaths since the late 1960s in its drive for an independent Basque state, but its last fatal attack was in May 2003.

The drop in attacks has led some to speculate that a truce may be near. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been criticised by some for his willingness to negotiate with the group. He did not attend Monday’s conference in Valencia, citing a scheduling conflict.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini addressed the opening day session, calling terrorism “the main threat in a democratic society.” He vowed that European governments would leave no stone unturned in fighting it.

Victims said the experience of meeting each other was cathartic.

“It’s an important moment for the victims to be together,” said Villa, who lost her legs when she was 12. “I feel that when I tell other victims my experience, the pain just disappears.”

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