Investigation into early release of Madrid bomber

22nd October 2004, Comments 0 comments

22 October 2004, MADRID - An investigation was underway Friday into why a key member of the radical Islamic cell that staged the deadly Madrid bombings was released from jail in Spain only a year after receiving a stiff sentence for belonging to an Algerian terror group.

22 October 2004

MADRID - An investigation was underway Friday into why a key member of the radical Islamic cell that staged the deadly Madrid bombings was released from jail in Spain only a year after receiving a stiff sentence for belonging to an Algerian terror group.

The Audiencia Nacional, which handles high-profile terrorism, drug and corruption cases, said Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez will head the probe into the case of Allekema Lamari.

Lamari was arrested in April 1997 in the eastern city of Valencia and was jailed the following day, accused of being a member of a cell of Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, which was trying to set up a terrorist infrastructure in Spain.

In June 2001, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for belonging to an armed group and several lesser offences.

The sentence was not final, however, because Lamari's lawyer appealed to the Spanish Supreme Court, but Spanish law allows convicted persons to be held for half the period of the sentence while the appeal is still pending.

In Lamari's case, the Audiencia Nacional ruled in 2001 that the calculation for half the period should have been made using the sentence for the worst crime he was convicted of – ten years for belonging to an armed group, and not based on the total sentence of 14 years.

On 9 April 2002, five years to the day he was arrested, the court issued an order for Lamari's release, which became effective two months later.

Legal sources said Lamari probably would have been out of jail prior to 11 March – the date of the Madrid bombings in which 191 people were killed - because he would have served nearly three-quarters of his sentence and would thus have been eligible for parole.

Five other presumed members of GIA were sentenced in 2001 with Lamari, among them Bachir Belhakem, Mohamed Amine Akli and Abdelkrim Bensamail who are still in prison and are among the 10 prisoners being held in solitary confinement after an Islamic cell was dismantled this week allegedly plotting to attack the headquarters of the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid.

Lamari and seven other presumed members of GIA committed suicide in the Madrid suburb of Leganes as police closed in on their apartment a few weeks after Madrid bombings.

Earlier Thursday, prison union officials and the main opposition party said Spanish jails run the risk of turning into "a powder keg" if Islamic inmates are left unchecked, a concern sparked by the discovery of an alleged terror cell that developed in and around the nation's penitentiary system.

Spanish authorities are now trying to untangle a web of relationships among jailed Islamic extremists and cohorts on the outside following the arrest earlier this week of nine alleged radicals who reportedly were plotting to blow up a Madrid court.

Concerns that terrorist activity may be germinating inside the prison system increased after the nine suspects were linked to 10 North African inmates being held in Spanish prisons.

Investigators have discovered that all of them had either met or were able to maintain contact at prisons across Spain over the past few years.

Jose Manuel Salvador, spokesperson for the ACAIP prison workers union, said one prison had turned into an "Islamic powder keg" and that efforts to monitor and control inmates have been made more difficult by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

According to Salvador, the situation is particularly worrying in Topas, in northeastern Spain, since the prison's population includes a higher percentage of Muslims than those at other facilities.

Investigators led by Judge Baltasar Garzon, who is in charge of probing suspected al Qaeda activities in Spain, also believe that the cell broken up earlier this week started in Topas.

Officials said the group was planning to detonate a truck loaded with at least 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of explosives near one of the national courts.

Garzon's investigation has revealed that the members of the alleged cell first met in Topas, where the group's purported leader, Mohammed Achraf, had previously been jailed for minor crimes.

Salvador said Topas has become a "stronghold" for Islamic inmates "attempting to impose their rules" on the prison.

In southern Spain, at the prison in Alhaurin de la Torre, union officials are warning that "serious conflicts" could occur during Ramadan in cell blocks housing mostly Muslim inmates.

Spain's main opposition Popular Party is calling for the resignation of the head of the prison system, Mercedes Gallizo.

PP official Alicia Sanchez Camacho revealed the existence of incident reports detailing attacks on prison workers, as well as internal documents alerting authorities to a series of activities by Islamic inmates at several facilities, including the prison in Topas.

Earlier this week the conservative PP, defeated at the polls in March after Muslim terrorists blew up four commuter trains on the eve of the elections, said "a lack of control and chaos" characterize the situation of Islamic extremists in the country's jails.

Spain is currently holding 59 convicted or accused Islamic terrorists at 20 different prisons, including three men belonging to the GIA who have been charged in connection with the March 11 attacks in Madrid.

According to officials, Islamic inmates are spread out among the nation's prisons, as are the members of all other terrorist organisations, such as the violent Basque separatist group ETA.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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