BY RAY FLEMING WHEN the Madrid train bombings left 191 dead and hundreds injured in March 2004 there were two theories about who had been responsible. The first, held by the Partido Popular government, was that the atrocity was the work of ETA. The second was that the apparent sophistication of the co-ordinated explosions pointed to al-Qaeda's involvement. In fact, however, the six-month trial of 29 defendants accused of the bombings has shown that neither explanation was correct.

The ETA connection was given little credence during the trial and most of the evidence pointed to a relatively unsophisticated operation carried out by a group of disaffected North African immigrants lacking any clear leadership or motive beyond the presence of Spanish forces in Iraq.

The families of the victims of the bombings were understandably disappointed and angry that seven of the accused were found not guilty by the three judges trying the case and that of the others only three were judged to be guilty of murder and sentenced accordingly.

However, the prosecution had an uphill task from the start because seven key suspects blew themselves up in a Madrid apartment after they were surrounded by police three weeks after the bombings; among them was their suspected leader Jamal Ahmidan.

It is difficult to know whether the trial and its verdicts will be the end of this traumatic affair for Spain. For the affected families it will last for a long time but otherwise prime minister Zapatero's comment, “Justice has been rendered”, was probably right.