The bombings of four commuter trains were the biggest Al-Qaeda-linked attack on European soil.
The proceedings are expected to last several months.
The indictment alone is 100,000 pages long. More than 600 witnesses and 107 experts have been called to testify. The court will hold three days of sessions per week through to July with a verdict due in October.
Emotional Trial Expected
It promises to be both spectacular and emotional. About 50 seats in the courtroom are reserved for the victims, but most of them are to follow the trial through an internal television circuit facility accommodating 150 people at a time.
Pilar Manjon, head of the March 11 Victims Association, said he had been waiting for this moment for a long time. "This is the first ray of light after a long road of legal work to get to this point,” he said. “For us, it is an important triumph to have arrived at this stage, the first hearing of the March 11,” he added.
A Muslim woman named Yamilla, who lost her daughter in the Madrid bombings, said the trial would be difficult emotionally. “This is very difficult deep inside, to face the assassins who killed my daughter,” she said.
Victims Ask Why
Jesus Ramirez Castanedo was badly injured in the Madrid train bombings. He had his legs broken, his skin burned, and his eardrums damaged. Castaneda said he could not understand the thinking of the attackers.
'What kind of mental mechanism drives people to jump on a train at seven in the morning and leave backpacks full of dynamite and shrapnel, knowing nothing about the people's lives they are about to ruin?'
“One of the questions that we, as victims, ask ourselves repeatedly is, 'What kind of mental mechanism drives people to jump on a train at seven in the morning and leave backpacks full of dynamite and shrapnel, knowing nothing about the people's lives they are about to ruin?'”
Twenty-nine suspects of mostly Northern African origin are on trial. Seven of the accused are charged with organizing the attack. Another 22 are charged with belonging to or collaborating with
terrorist organizations, possession of explosives, and falsification of documents.
The proceedings began with one of the four alleged masterminds of the bombings Rabei Ousmane Sayed Ahmed or "Mohammed the Egyptian" rejecting all charges against him and refusing to give evidence.
Ahmed is facing sentences totaling some 40,000 years for the killings and for membership in a terrorist organization, although under Spanish law the longest jail term anyone can actually serve is 40 years.
Other key suspects include Moroccans Jamal Zougam and Abdelmajid Bouchar, accused of planting some bombs.
Spaniard Emilio Trashorras, a former miner, is accused of supplying the dynamite used in the attack. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Seven top suspects in the plot died in an explosion at a flat in Madrid in April 2004 as police surrounded them.
(with material from Reuters)