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29 charged in Madrid train bombings

(The following article by Daniel Woolls was circulated by the Associated Press on April 12.)

MADRID, Spain -- A Spanish judge issued the first indictments in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, charging 29 people Tuesday with murder, terrorism or other crimes after a probe that uncovered a hornet's nest of Islamic militancy but no apparent link to al-Qaida.

In an indictment of 1,471 pages, Juan del Olmo, the investigative magistrate heading the probe, described the birth and workings of a cell of longtime residents, most of them from Morocco and Syria. Inspired by extremist Islamic doctrine, they are said to have risen up against their adopted homeland to kill 191 people and wound more than 1,700 in the attacks.

Three of the 29 people indicted were charged with 191 counts of murder and 1,755 counts of attempted murder, and three others with conspiracy to commit those crimes.

The first three include Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan merchant suspected of supplying cell phones used as detonators in the 10 backpack bombs that ripped through four crowded commuter trains on March 11, 2004. When arrested two days after the attacks, Zougam said he was in bed asleep when the bombs went off and had nothing to do with the plot.

The other two are Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard accused of supplying the dynamite used in the attacks, and Abdelmajid Bouchar, a Moroccan.

Rabei Osman, an Egyptian who has claimed the attacks were his idea, is among the three men accused of conspiracy to commit murder. He is on trial in Italy on separate terrorism-related charges.

Five of the six lead suspects also were charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, while 12 other men are accused of collaboration. The indictment said four witnesses have identified Zougam as having been aboard trains that were bombed and placing a dark blue sports bag under his seat.

The indictment says the central figure in the financing, planning and execution of the attacks was a Moroccan named Jamal Ahmidan. He and six other suspected ringleaders -- including its ideological mastermind, Tunisian Serhan Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet -- blew themselves up three weeks after the massacre as police moved in on their apartment hideout in the Madrid suburb of Leganes. One police officer died in that explosion.

Officials turned up no evidence the cell received any outside money transfers to stage the attack, Del Olmo wrote.

The bombings were Spain's worst terrorist attack and are seen as having brought down a conservative Spanish government that backed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Shortly after the attacks, Islamic militants claimed responsibility on behalf of al-Qaida and said they acted to avenge the presence of Spanish troops dispatched to Iraq in 2003 by then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

However, a senior Spanish intelligence official and a Western one closely involved in counterterrorism measures told the Associated Press last month there was no evidence the cell had any contact with or received any help from Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

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