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by Tito Drago

Madrid's Train Bombing Still Unsolved A Year Later (2005)

(IPS) MADRID -- A court in Madrid sentenced three men Wednesday to thousands of years in prison for the March 11, 2004, train bombings that killed 191 people and injured nearly 2,000 in the Spanish capital.

Although defendants in Spain can be sentenced to many years in prison, in practice the maximum possible prison term that they may serve is 30 years.

The verdict confirmed that the Basque separatist group ETA had nothing to do with the blasts that tore apart four commuter trains during morning rush hour, but it failed to identify the masterminds behind the attacks.

Immediately after the bombings, the government of the then-ruling center-right Popular Party pinned the blame on ETA.

And ever since it was voted out of office three days after the tragedy, the party has continued to insist that the ETA was somehow involved, despite the fact that no evidence to that effect has been uncovered.

Among the factors that contributed to the Popular Party’s defeat in the March 14, 2004 elections were the first signs pointing to the involvement of Islamist groups, which emerged just hours after the attacks.

Public opinion quickly reached the conclusion that the bombings were a reprisal against the support given by the conservative government of then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In his verdict Wednesday, Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez stated categorically that "There was no proof pointing to the presence of ETA" in the attacks.

He also clarified that the explosives that were placed in backpacks in the trains were not the ones typically used by the Basque terrorist group but came instead from the Conchita mine in the northern Spanish province of Asturias.

Many of the survivors and families of victims attending the trial were disappointed with the outcome. They were especially upset about the acquittal of Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, who had been accused by the prosecutor of playing a key role in the bombings.

If evidence had been found against him, Osman Sayed Ahmed, who is currently serving time in prison in Italy for having links to terror cells in Europe and Iraq, could have served a maximum prison sentence for 191 murders and 1,841 attempted murders.

Jamal Zougam and Othman el Gnaoui of Morocco and Emilio Suarez Trashorras of Spain both received sentences of thousands of years in prison.

Zougam was found guilty of placing explosives on at least one of the trains; el Gnaoui was convicted of transporting the explosives to Madrid; and Suarez Trashorras, a former miner, was sentenced for supplying stolen explosives with the knowledge that they could be used for a terrorist attack.

Also convicted of a range of other charges were 18 of a total of 29 people prosecuted in the trial, who received prison terms of three to 12 years.

But seven were acquitted, and no one was found guilty of masterminding the attack from abroad.

Seven key suspects committed suicide in 2004 by blowing themselves up three weeks after the attacks, when the police raided an apartment in the Madrid suburb of Leganes.

The mother of Carlos Alberto Garcia, one of the victims of the train blasts cursed as she asked, “What kind of … justice is this?" referring to the fact that seven suspects were absolved.

After the verdict was announced, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero gave a televised address in which he paid tribute to the victims and underscored the "exemplary functioning" of the justice system and security forces, for their "impartial investigation to find out the truth."

He added, "The lesson we can learn is the need to work together against terrorism."

A similar message was expressed by Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy. But he also said that while he respected the court’s decision, he regretted that those accused of masterminding the attacks had not been found guilty of those charges.

In addition, Rajoy pointed out that the arrests of the men who were convicted Wednesday took place when the Popular Party was governing the country.

He added that his party had always insisted that all aspects of the case and possible angles should be investigated, and said the sentence did not clear up all of the doubts as to who dreamed up the attacks, but that he would throw his entire support behind any other investigation into the tragedy.

Analysts say the sentence will work in favor of the governing socialist party in the March 2008 general elections.

A total of 49 lawyers and 23 private associations were involved as plaintiffs in the trial, which lasted nearly three years, and in which 370 witnesses testified.

The court also rewarded damages to survivors and to the families of people who were killed or injured, ranging from 30,000 to 1.5 million euros ($43,000 to $1.4 million) each.

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Albion Monitor   November 1, 2007   (

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