Terrorist Victims Meet at Spain Conference

VALENCIA, Spain — Arthur Roth’s 15-year-old daughter was killed in a Jerusalem suicide blast. Kenneth Thompson’s mother died in the Oklahoma City bombing. Spanish journalist Irene Villa lost both legs in a bomb attack 15 years ago.

They joined hundreds of other relatives and survivors Monday at an international conference on victims of terrorism in this Mediterranean port city.

Many were in wheelchairs, or were missing limbs. 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, an Israeli lawyer whose daughter Malki was slain 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 said.

Organizers of the two-day conference _ called the International Congress on Victims of Terrorism and sponsored by Spain’s San Pablo CEU University _ say their goal is to let victims meet each other and to draw the attention of governments and society.

The summit was attended by survivors and relatives of those killed in the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, in the 2004 Beslan school seizure in Russia, in last July’s London transit bombings and in bombings and assaults 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 fresh in his mind. He said all of those 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 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 1,500 others. The second was held last year in Bogota, Colombia.

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 traumatized.

"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 the 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. 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 criticized for his willingness to negotiate with the group. He did not attend the conference Monday, citing a scheduling conflict.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini addressed Monday’s day session, calling terrorism "the main threat in a democratic society." He vowed that European governments would keep 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 in an ETA attack when she was 12. "I feel that when I tell other victims my experience, the pain just disappears."

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