Stage set for end to Madrid train bombing trial
29 October 2007, MADRID - (AFP) - Spain's anti-terrorist court will Wednesday hand down verdicts against 28 people accused of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, claimed in the name of Al-Qaeda, which killed 191 people and injured 1,841 others.
29 October 2007
MADRID - (AFP) - Spain's anti-terrorist court will Wednesday hand down verdicts against 28 people accused of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, claimed in the name of Al-Qaeda, which killed 191 people and injured 1,841 others.
The early morning bombings on four packed commuter trains were the deadliest terror attacks in the West since the September 11, 2001 strikes against the US and they changed the course of a general election held in Spain days later.
After three months of deliberations, judge Javier Gomez Bermudez of the National Audience -- Spain's top court for investigating and judging terrorism cases -- is set to announce verdicts and sentences at around 11 am (1000 GMT).
Prosecutors have called for the 28 defendants in the trial to be sentenced to a cumulative total of 311,865 years in prison although under Spanish law the longest jail term anyone can actually serve for terrorist crimes is 40 years.
During the four-month trial which wrapped up on July 2, all of the accused -- 19 mostly Moroccan Arabs living in Spain and nine Spaniards charged with providing the explosives used in the bombings -- said they were innocent.
The defendants also denied having any link to radical Islam or Al-Qaeda, and several went on a temporary hunger strike during the high-security trial to protest what they said was the "injustice" of their situation.
There were originally 29 people on trial but prosecutors in June dropped all charges against one of of the minor defendants, Moroccan national Brahim Moussaten, for lack of evidence.
The following month prosecutor Javier Zaragoza told public radio RNE that it is "likely" that some of the accused will be acquitted "owing to a lack of sufficient incriminating evidence against them".
The string of 10 bombs that exploded on commuter trains on March 11, 2004, leaving bodies and limbs scattered on railway tracks, were blamed by the conservative government at the time on the armed Basque separatist group ETA.
But evidence quickly began to point to Islamic radicals angered over Madrid's decision to send troops to back the US-led war in Iraq.
Two days after the attacks the Spanish government announced the discovery near a Madrid mosque of a videotape in Arabic claiming the attacks on behalf of "Al-Qaeda's military spokesman in Europe."
The opposition Socialists scored a surprise victory in a general election the following day, aided by the perception that the ruling Popular Party had tried to cover up evidence that Islamic radicals were behind the bombings.
New Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promptly fulfilled a campaign promise to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq.
Seven prime suspects blew themselves up three weeks after the attacks in an apartment block when they found themselves surrounded by police. One policeman was killed in the blast.
Police were able to trace the SIM card of a mobile phone that was attached to one of the train bombs that did not explode to a shop run by one of the defendants, Moroccan national Jamal Zougam.
Zougam was one of the first suspects to be arrested and he is one of the trial's five main accused.
He and fellow Moroccan Abdelmajid Bouchar, who had been with the seven prime suspects shortly before they blew themselves up, were seen by witnesses leaving backpacks on the trains which are thought to have contained bombs.
The three other key defendants -- Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Youssef Belhadj, and Hassan Al-Haski -- are accused of masterminding the bombings.
Ahmed, also known as "Mohammed the Egyptian", was arrested in Italy in June 2004 and is charged with running a terrorist organization.
Belhadj is believed to be a purported spokesman for Al-Qaeda who claimed responsibility for the bombings on the videotape found after the attacks while Al-Haski is the alleged leader in Spain, and later on in Europe, of the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group.
Subject: Spanish news