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21 Convicted, 7 Acquitted in Madrid Train Bombings

Hear Steve Inskeep and Jerome Socolovsky discuss the verdicts in the Madrid, Spain, train bombings on Morning Edition

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A judge in Spain has found 21 people guilty of participating in the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded 1,800 others.

Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez found seven of the 28 defendants not guilty of involvement in the bombings, including 35-year-old Egyptian Rabei Osman. The government had accused Osman of bragging that the bombings were his idea during a wiretapped phone conversation, but defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated.

Four others — Youssef Belhadj, Hassan el Haski, Abdulmajid Bouchar and Rafa Zouhier — were acquitted of murder, but they were convicted of lesser charges, including belonging to a terrorist organization. They received sentences of between 12 and 18 years.

Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez read out the verdicts to the March 11, 2004, attacks in a hushed courtroom, with heavy security.

Murder Convictions

Three other lead defendants were convicted of murder and given sentences that stretched into the tens of thousands of years. They 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 Osman Gnaoui, a Moroccan accused of being a right-hand man of the plot's operational chief.

Six lesser suspects were also acquitted on all charges. Fourteen other people were found guilty of lesser charges, such as belonging to a terrorist group.

Most of the suspects are young Muslim men of North African origin. They 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.

ETA Not Involved

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.

Osman is in jail in Italy.

The blasts targeting crowded, rush-hour commuter trains on the morning of March 11, 2004, traumatized Spain and arguably toppled its government — the first time an administration that backed the U.S.-led Iraq war was voted out of power. The day is widely known in Spain as simply 11-M, much as the term 9-11 is known in the United States.

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.

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.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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