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Madrid train bombers get 40,000 years in prison

(The following article by Richard Holt appeared on UK’s The Telegraph website on October 31.)

LONDON — A Spanish court has convicted three of the eight men accused of playing a central role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings and sentenced each of them to almost 40,000 years in prison.

Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan was found guilty of placing bombs aboard one of the four targeted trains, Othman El-Gnaoui, also Moroccan, was found guilty of transporting the explosives and Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard, was found guilty of supplying them.

Despite the sentences, under Spanish law nobody can stay in prison for more than 40 years.

The judge read out verdicts for a total of 28 suspects at the end of a politically charged trial into Europe's deadliest al-Qa'eda inspired attack.

Of the total number of accused 21 were found guilty and seven were found innocent.

In a surprise move however the anti-terrorist court acquitted Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, also known as "Mohammed the Egyptian", who prosecutors said had organised the attacks.

Ten bombs packed into sports bags ripped through four commuter trains early on March 11, 2004, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800.

The bombings also reshaped Spanish politics as voters spurned a conservative government that at first blamed the Islamist attack on Basque separatists ETA.

Twenty-nine people, mostly Moroccans and Spaniards, were tried over four months for crimes ranging from masterminding the attack to stealing explosives from a mine and selling them on in exchange for drugs. One has since been acquitted.

After a four month break to consider the evidence, Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez called the court to hear his summing up of the trial.

Early today, the suspects were driven to the court room on the outskirts of Madrid under high security as helicopters buzzed overhead and scores of policemen stood guard.

All the suspects pleaded innocent and those found guilty are expected to appeal against their sentences.

The verdicts close another chapter on the bombings but with a general election less than five months away, they could embarrass the opposition centre-right Popular Party, which initially blamed ETA for the attack.

The blasts hit three days before the last elections, which the then Popular Party government had looked set to win, despite having led the country into the highly unpopular war in Iraq.

But the conservative government's insistence that Basque separatists planted the bombs backfired when evidence piled up to show they were the work of radical Islamists.

Days later, voters turned out en masse and brought in the Socialists, who quickly pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

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