Second Madrid bombs suspect refuses to speak in court (1st Lead)
Feb 16, 2007, 10:47 GMT
Spanish Presiding Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez during the first session of trial against 29 people which are accused of involvement in the train bombings of March 11, 2004 at Audiencia Nacional Court\'s Pavilion, on Thursday 15 February 2007 in Madrid. EPA/SERGIO BARRENECHEA
Madrid - The second of 29 suspects to be interrogated at a historic trial for the 2004 Madrid train bombings refused to answer questions Friday as the trial went into its second day.
Moroccan Youssef Belhadj, 30, said he would only reply to questions asked by his defence lawyer about his involvement in the biggest al-Qaeda-inspired attack in Europe, which killed 191 and injured 1,824 people on March 11, 2004 in the Spanish capital.
Belhadj followed the example of the first suspect to be interrogated, Egyptian Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed, who only answered questions from defence, denying any involvement in the bombings.
Fifteen Moroccans, nine Spaniards, two Syrians, an Egyptian, an Algerian and a Lebanese national are charged in connection with the rush-hour bombings of four commuter trains.
Belhadj is allegedly the masked person who claimed responsibility for the bombings on a video found near Madrid's main mosque.
Detained in Brussels in 2005, Belhadj, known as 'the Afghan,' is regarded as one of the top al-Qaeda organizers in Europe, who allegedly recruited volunteers to send for training in Afghanistan.
The prosecution is seeking prison sentences of nearly 40,000 years for each of the seven main accused.
They include the three suspected planners: El Sayed, Belhadj and Moroccan Hassan el Haski, as well as two Moroccans and one Syrian who have been charged with planting bombs on the trains.
The seventh top suspect is Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, 30, a Spaniard accused of selling the terrorists 200 kilograms of dynamite stolen from a northern mine where he had worked.
If convicted, however, the accused would not serve more than 40 years, the maximum allowed under Spanish law.
Seven other top suspects will never see a courtroom, as they blew themselves up when police closed in on their flat in Leganes near Madrid three weeks after the train bombings.
More than 600 witnesses and nearly 100 experts were to testify at the trial held in a special high-security courthouse for terrorism cases.
The hearings were expected to last until June, with the verdicts due in October.
The Madrid attacks saw 10 bombs explode almost simultaneously on four packed suburban trains at around 7:30 a.m.
The explosives had been inside bags left on the trains by at least 12 terrorists, who got out before the trains reached Madrid and detonated the bombs with mobile phones.
Spain's biggest terrorist attack may have changed the result of the elections held three days later. Many voters blamed the bombings on conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's unpopular war alliance with the United States in Iraq.
The government also lost support over its initial erroneous claim that the attacks had been carried out by Basque separatists.
Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was swept to power, immediately honouring his election pledge of recalling Spanish troops from Iraq.
Investigators believe that the terrorists - most of them immigrants - belonged to a Spanish Islamist cell. It was linked with the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) and loosely connected with, but not acting on the orders of, al-Qaeda.
In October 2003, Osama bin Laden had called for attacks against US allies including Spain.
The lower-level accused at the trial include people suspected of helping the terrorists for instance by falsifying documents or spreading Islamist propaganda.
Eight Spaniards are charged with collaborating with Trashorras. The lesser accused face jail terms of up to 30 years.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur