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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Year After Madrid Bombings, Spain Evaluates Terror Climate

MADRID -- When 10 backpacks loaded with dynamite exploded on Madrid commuter trains a year ago, shellshocked Spaniards looked east to place blame: their country's troop presence in U.S.-occupied Iraq.

But on the anniversary of the March 11 massacre, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500, fingers point closer at home -- at Spain's failure to monitor Muslim militants who had operated freely here for more than a decade.

Since the attack, new terror plots have emerged, including one to destroy a courthouse that is the hub for Spain's probes of Islamic terror cases, and investigations elsewhere in Europe found links to Spain. Chilling conclusion No. 2: Spain was not just a soft, one-time target for militants who said they'd acted on al-Qaida's behalf to avenge Spain's presence in Iraq. One investigator outside the government calls Spain a "crossroads" for Muslim extremists in Europe.

After waves of arrests and a quadrupling of investigators probing Muslim extremists, "Spain is safer now, but the threat level has not gone down for Spain or the European Union in general," government counterterrorism chief Fernando Reinares said.

He estimated Spain today was home to "a few hundred" Muslims indoctrinated in radical Islam and ready to be recruited for terrorism. Reinares said the Madrid bombers had plotted to follow up the massacre with suicide bombings, which he said shows their goal was not really to punish the pro-U.S. government then in power.

n NATO radar planes will patrol the skies over Spain during the remembrance events for the first anniversary of the March 11 train bombings, the alliance said Thursday.

A four-day international conference on terrorism is also being held in the city, with the last day timed to coincide with the anniversary of the bombings.

"Airborne air defense systems will scan the skies and provide extensive coverage of the summit and the memorial ceremonies and will relay the information to Spanish authorities," an alliance statement said.