Thursday, November 1, 2007
Story of the Day-Seven Acquitted, 21 Found Guilty in Madrid Bombing
The 2004 Madrid train bombings (also known in Spanish as 11-M) consisted of a series of coordinated bombings against the Cercanías (commuter train) system of Madrid, Spain on the morning of 11 March 2004 (three days before Spain's general elections and 911 days after 9/11), killing 191 people and wounding 2,050. The official investigation by the Spanish Judiciary determined the attacks were directed by an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell although no direct al-Qaeda participation has been established. Spanish nationals who sold the explosives to the terrorists were also arrested. According to the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, this is the only Islamist terrorist act in the history of Europe where international Islamists collaborated with non-Muslims.
The authorship of the bombings remains controversial to some groups in Spain due to the high political price paid by the Partido Popular (PP), who were then in power. The aftermath of the terrorist attacks were marked by bitter arguments between the two main political parties (PSOE and PP), who accused each other of concealing or distorting evidence for electoral reasons. If it was proven that the 11 March attacks had been carried out by ETA, political analysts believe it would have strengthened the PP's chances of being re-elected, as this would have been perceived as the death throes of a terrorist organisation reduced to desperate measures by the strong anti-terrorist policy of the Aznar administration. On the other hand, an Islamist attack would have been perceived as the direct result of Spain's involvement in Iraq, an unpopular war that had not been approved by the Spanish Parliament.
A controversy appeared regarding the handling and representation of the bombings by the government of José María Aznar and alleged unresolved issues around the bombings.
After 21 months of investigation, judge Juan del Olmo ruled Moroccan national Jamal Zougam guilty of physically carrying out the attack , ruling out any ETA intervention. Nation-wide demonstrations and protests followed the attacks. Many analysts coincide on the view that the Aznar administration lost the general elections as a result of the handling and representation of the terrorist attacks, rather than the bombings per se.
CNN Special Report: Massacre in Madrid
Madrid train attacks
The 2004 Madrid bombings
The major events surrounding the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and injured up to 1,800 others.
March 11 2004: Ten backpack bombs explode on four morning rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800 others. Hours later, police find a van with detonators and a cassette tape with verses from the Qur'an at a train station through which all of the trains had passed.
March 12 2004: Police deactivate a bomb hidden in a backpack found on one train. The mobile phone rigged as a detonator - a system also used in the other devices - is their first big break.
March 13 2004: Police make their first arrests, including a Moroccan-born man who sold the pre-paid cards used in the mobile phone-detonators. Al-Qaida in Europe claims responsibility for the bombings in a video found near a Madrid mosque. In the video, an Arabic-speaking man with his face covered says the bombs were revenge for the Spanish troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
March 14 2004: Socialists unseat the ruling conservatives in the scheduled general election. The conservatives had blamed the attacks on the armed Basque separatist group Eta, even as evidence of Islamic involvement emerged. Weeks later, the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, withdraws Spanish troops from Iraq.
March 26 2004: Police find detonators, traces of dynamite and fingerprints inside a rural cottage where police suspect the bombs were made.
April 3 2004: Seven suspects in the bombings blow themselves up as police move in on an apartment outside Madrid. Police describe the men as ringleaders. One suspect escapes but is eventually caught in Serbia. A special forces soldier dies in the blast.
April 11 2006: Twenty-nine people are indicted over the attacks: 15 Moroccans, nine Spaniards, two Syrians, one Egyptian, one Algerian and one Lebanese.
November 6 2006: Prosecutors seek jail terms of more than 38,000 years for each of the seven top suspects.
February 15 2007: The trial starts at a heavily guarded courthouse in Madrid. Over five months of testimony, more than 300 witnesses and 70 experts take the stand. Prosecutors eventually drop charges against one suspect, reducing the total to 28. They also change the sentences sought for several suspects. In the end, they request 38,000-year terms for eight men accused as ringleaders, material participants or key accomplices. The trial ends on July 2.
October 31: Verdicts set to be announced by a three-judge panel at the national court.
7 Are Acquitted in Madrid Bombings
The National Court on Wednesday convicted three men of murdering 191 people and wounding more than 1,800 in the 2004 Madrid bombings. But three other men, who were accused of being the organizers, were found not guilty of direct involvement in the attacks, the most deadly carried out by Islamic radicals on European soil.
The three-judge tribunal court acquitted a total of seven suspects and found 18 others guilty of lesser charges related to the attacks, including belonging to a terrorist organization.
The sentences ranged from 3 to almost 43,000 years, although under Spanish law, the maximum anyone is forced to serve is 40 consecutive years. One defendant was released during the trial for lack of evidence.
Many Spaniards were shocked that the focal suspects were not convicted of the most severe charges.
The verdicts closed a sprawling trial that over the course of five months brought 29 defendants, nearly 50 lawyers and 350 witnesses to a temporary courtroom on the outskirts of Madrid.
The trial promised the first taste of justice to those wounded in the attacks and the relatives of those killed on March 11, 2004, when blasts from 13 sports bags stuffed with explosives and nails tore through four trains carrying people from mainly working-class suburbs to the city center.
Those who believed that prosecutors had produced enough evidence to convict the main suspects of the most serious charges were disappointed.
Isabel Presa, who lost her youngest son in the blasts, told reporters outside the courtroom, “I’m not a judge or a lawyer, but this is shameful, outrageous.”
According to Reuters, Ms. Presa said the attacks had “condemned me and my husband to a life sentence, and these people get off scot-free.”
Counterterrorism experts said the verdict underscored the difficulty of building a solid case against people accused of inspiring or directing Islamist foot soldiers, and who belong to diffuse groups with little formal structure.
The bombings were carried out by a group of North African Islamists that intersected with a band of petty criminals whose ringleader, Jamal Ahmidan, had become radicalized in a Moroccan jail. Seven of the main suspects, including Mr. Ahmidan, blew themselves up in a Madrid apartment when they were surrounded by the police three weeks after the attacks, and four others are believed to have fled.
Without a case strong enough to convict those suspected of being organizers, the prosecutors failed to prove a connection between the group that carried out the attacks and international Islamists with links to established organizations, like the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.
The counterterrorism experts said the verdicts reflected the challenges faced by police forces and judges as they seek to imprison those accused of international terrorism: the preponderance of circumstantial evidence rather than concrete proof; problems with evidence translated from Arabic and with evidence collected by other countries; unreliable witnesses; and the absence of confessions — none of the 28 defendants confessed.
“It is a point of pride to be able to try people in a courtroom, with full constitutional guarantees,” Fernando Reinares, an expert in international terrorism at the Royal Elcano Institute, said. “But in Spain there is space for debate about whether we need to adapt our judicial legislation and culture to confront international Islamist terrorism.”
Roland Jacquard, head of the International Observatory on Terrorism in Paris, said prosecutors had encountered similar difficulties in countries like Germany, where people accused of complicity in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were acquitted for lack of evidence.
He said: “We need to find a legal formula that would give evidence of the masterminds’ responsibility, and not only of the responsibility of the operatives. It is always easier to arrest someone who has imprints of explosives on his hands.”
Javier Gómez Bermudez, the presiding judge on the tribunal, sentenced Jamal Zougam, 34, a Moroccan whom witnesses saw on one of the trains that was later bombed, to more than 30,000 years in prison for charges including murder. Mr. Zougam owned a shop where most of the phone cards used in the mobile phones that detonated the explosives were bought.
The tribunal gave a similar sentence to Otman el-Gnaoui, 32, a Moroccan who helped transport the explosives used in the attacks, and to José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, 30, who was convicted as a “necessary accomplice.” Mr. Suárez, a former miner from northern Spain, supplied the stolen dynamite used in the bombings in exchange for drugs.
But the tribunal acquitted Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, who was accused of being a March 11 organizer. Last year, he was convicted in an Italian court of conspiracy to participate in international terrorist activities.
The other defendants who were accused of being organizers, Hassan el-Haski and Youssef Belhadj, were acquitted of any such role and convicted of belonging to a terrorist group.
In written arguments released Wednesday, the tribunal said tapes of telephone conversations made by the Italian police and provided as evidence against Mr. Ahmed did not prove his participation in the plot. Prosecutors said Mr. Ahmed was caught boasting that he was “the thread behind the Madrid plot,” but the translation from the Arabic was disputed by Spanish translators in the Madrid court.
The tribunal also said a piece of paper found in Mr. Ahmed’s Milan apartment, bearing the words “martyr,” “honey” and “11-03-04” — the European rendering of the date of the attack — was not conclusive evidence.
Mr. Reinares, the expert on terrorism, said the tribunal appeared to have been very strict in its definition of admissible evidence. “It seems he has not admitted the extraordinary mass of circumstantial evidence,” Mr. Reinares said. “This kind of evidence is crucial when you are trying members of a nebulous group of international terrorists.”
Mixed verdicts issued in Madrid terror trial
21 of 28 found guilty in attack that killed 191; alleged ringleader acquitted
MADRID, Spain - Three lead defendants in the 2004 Madrid train bombings were found guilty of mass murder and other charges Wednesday but four other top suspects were convicted on lesser charges and an accused ringleader was completely acquitted.
The verdicts were a partial victory for prosecutors, with 21 of the 28 people on trial convicted on at least some charges. Seven got off entirely, including an Egyptian who prosecutors said had bragged that he masterminded the March 11, 2004 blasts, which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.
The three lead suspects convicted of murder and attempted murder each received sentences ranging from 34,000 to 43,000 years in prison, although under Spanish law the most time they can spend in jail is 40 years. Spain has no death penalty or life imprisonment.
The three are: Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan convicted of placing at least one bomb on one of the trains; Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard who is a former miner found guilty of supplying the explosives used in the attacks; and Othman Gnaoui, a Moroccan accused of being a right-hand man of the plot’s operational chief.
Top suspects Youssef Belhadj, Hassan el Haski, Abdulmajid Bouchar and Rafa Zouhier were acquitted of murder but convicted of lesser charges including belonging to a terrorist organization. They received sentences of between 10 and 18 years.
Fourteen other people were found guilty of lesser charges like belonging to a terrorist group.
Defendant argued tapes mistranslated
Accused mastermind Rabei Osman, who is in jail in Italy, had allegedly bragged in a wiretapped phone conversation that the massacre was his idea. But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated.
Six lesser suspects were acquitted on all charges in addition to Osman.
Much of the evidence against the men was circumstantial. Bouchar, for instance, had been seen on one of the bombed trains shortly before the attack, but at trial nobody could definitively identify him.
Circumstantial evidence is admissible in Spanish court but the judges may have avoided relaying heavily upon it because of a number of high-profile terror cases that were overturned on appeal, including one involving a Spanish cell accused of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez read out the verdicts in a hushed courtroom, with heavy security, including bomb-sniffing dogs and police helicopters, outside.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who came to power after the attacks, welcomed the verdicts. “Justice was rendered today,” he said.
“The barbarism perpetrated on March 11, 2004, has left a deep imprint of pain on our collective memory, an imprint that stays with us as a homage to the victims,” said Zapatero.
Police: No direct order, funds from al-Qaida
Most of the suspects are young Muslim men of North African origin who allegedly acted out of allegiance to al-Qaida to avenge the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, although Spanish investigators say they did so without a direct order or financing from Osama bin Laden’s terror network.
Bermudez said the probe had turned up no evidence of involvement by the armed Basque separatist group ETA, dismissing the initial argument of the conservative pro-U.S. government in power at the time of the attacks. The theory is still embraced by many Spaniards.
The day of carnage is etched in Spain’s collective memory and became widely known as simply 11-M, much as the term 9-11 conjures up so much pain for Americans.
The sentences of thousands of years for lead suspects are largely symbolic because the maximum jail time for a terrorism conviction in Spain is 40 years. Spain has no death penalty or life imprisonment.
Seven suspected ringleaders of the attacks — including the operational chief and an ideologue — blew themselves up in a safe house outside Madrid three weeks after the massacre as special forces who tracked them via cell phone traffic moved in to arrest them.
Profound political repercussions
The attacks had profound political repercussions and left Spaniards deeply and bitterly divided between supporters of conservatives in power at the time of the massacre and Socialists who accused the government of making Spain a target for al-Qaida by supporting the Iraq war and sending in 1,300 peacekeepers.
The government of then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar initially blamed Basque separatists for the bombings, even as evidence of Islamic involvement emerged.
This led to charges of a cover-up to deflect attention away from the government’s support for the war, and in elections three days after the bombings the conservatives lost to the opposition Socialists, who quickly brought the Spanish troops home.
Madrid Attack- Amature Footage