Twenty-one convicted over Madrid train bombings
31 October 2007, MADRID -(AFP) - A Spanish court Wednesday convicted 21 people of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but acquitted a man accused of helping mastermind the Al Qaeda-inspired attack that claimed nearly 200 lives.
31 October 2007
MADRID -(AFP) - A Spanish court Wednesday convicted 21 people of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but acquitted a man accused of helping mastermind the Al Qaeda-inspired attack that claimed nearly 200 lives.
The early morning bombings on four packed commuter trains on March 11, 2004 were the deadliest terror attacks in the West since the September 11, 2001 strikes against the US.
The chief judge of the special anti-terrorist court, Javier Gomez Bermudez, pronounced two Moroccans -- Jamal Zougam and Othman el-Gnaoui -- and a Spaniard, Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, guilty of murdering the 191 people killed in the blasts.
They were sentenced to around 40,000 years in prison each, although under Spanish law the maximum they can spend behind bars is 40 years.
In a surprise move, one of the alleged organisers of the attacks, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, also known as "Mohammed the Egyptian", was acquitted on all charges along with six other defendants.
Ahmed was arrested in Italy in June 2004 and was charged with running a terrorist organization.
Two other alleged ringleaders received sentences of less than 20 years in prison for belonging to a terrorist organisation
A total of 28 defendants were on trial.
Zougam was one of the first suspects to be arrested. 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 the Moroccan.
Trashorras and el-Gnaoui were respectively condemned for supplying and transporting the explosives.
Gomez Bermudez read out the verdicts and sentences after three months of deliberations by his three-judge panel. The announcement was broadcast live on Spanish television.
Lawyers for the accused now have five days to announce whether or not they intend to appeal the verdicts to Spain's Supreme Court.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wlecomed the verdicts.
"Today justice was done and we must now look to the future, strengthening coexistence," Zapatero said.
Dozens of armed police wearing bullet-proof vests surrounded the court, located at the entrance to a park in the west of the capital, as a helicopter hovered overhead.
An armoured car with a machine gun was also parked outside the building.
During the four-month trial which wrapped up on July 2, all of the accused -- 19 mostly North African 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.
But several of the defendants were contradicted by witnesses who said they saw them leaving rucksacks on the trains on the day of the bombings or by the discovery of traces of their DNA at key sites of the attacks.
Most of the accused said they knew some of the seven suspected masterminds of the attacks who blew themselves up at a suburban Madrid apartment three weeks after the bombings as police closed in.
The string of 10 bombs exploded on commuter trains on March 11, 2004, leaving bodies and limbs scattered on railway tracks. A total of 191 people from 13 countries were killed and 1,841 others injured.
The conservative government in power at the time initially blamed 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.
The attack was claimed later that day by the Al-Qaeda terror network of Osama bin Laden.
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.
Zapatero promptly fulfilled a campaign promise to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq.
Spain had been threatened with reprisals by Al-Qaeda because of its involvement in Iraq.
Subject: Spanish news