Spain Begins Case Against Train-Bomb Suspects

The trial of 29 suspects accused of involvement in the Madrid train bombing of 2004 opens in Madrid. About 191 people were killed and 1,500 injured in the coordinated series of bomb attacks on suburban commuter trains. The authorities say those accused in the trial are Islamist militants inspired by al-Qaida.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

They're accused of taking part in Europe's deadliest al-Qaida inspired attack and Spain's worst incident since the country's civil war. The trial began today for 29 people allegedly involved in the Madrid train bombings in 2004. One hundred ninety-one people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded in the explosions that ripped through four commuter trains.

As Jerome Socolovsky reports, many Spaniards hope this trial will help their country deal with a national tragedy.

(Soundbite of siren)

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Armored police buses brought the accused to the courthouse, a converted old pavilion next to an amusement park on the outskirts of the Spanish capital. Never has a trial in Spain been held under such tight security, and never has one been so emotionally charged.

Spaniards often refer to the train bombings as their 9/11, and many people hope this trial will bring closure, not least for the victims. Many of them were working class Spaniards and immigrants who came here seeking a better life.

Yamila Endelwan(ph), a petite Moroccan woman who wears an Islamic veil, choked up as she stood outside the courthouse and remembered her 13-year-old daughter, Saunna(ph).

Ms. YAMILA ENDELWAN: (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: I miss her a lot and I will never forget her. They took my only daughter, she said.

After coming face to face with the defendants in the courtroom, Ecuadorian immigrant Alberto Tenesaca said he has no doubt that they murdered his 17-year-old son, Jose Luis.

Mr. ALBERTO TENESACA: (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: They look like little angels, but they have a criminal mentality, Tenesaca said.

The 336-page indictment says the bombings were planned and carried out by a cell of Arab immigrants inspired by al-Qaida. They were seeking to punish Spain for its participation in the Iraq war. The indictment says they were helped by Spanish drug dealers who sold them explosives from a mine in northern Spain in exchange for illicit drugs.

The accused include 20 Arabs - mostly Moroccans - and nine Spaniards.

Unidentified Judge: (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: The president of the three-judge court addressed the first defendant on the stand. Rabei Osman El Sayed Ahmed was arrested in Italy after he bragged about masterminding the Madrid bombings in wiretapped phone calls. An Italian court has already given him a 10-year sentence related to the Madrid bombings.

In the Spanish court, prosecutor Olga Sanchez asked him about a small piece of paper that police found with the exact date of the bombing written next to two words.

Ms. OLGA SANCHEZ (Prosecutor): (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: What do the words shaheed and honey mean, she asked rhetorically. And then for the benefit of the court, she explained that shaheed is Arabic for martyr, while honey is an al-Qaida codename for explosives.

El Sayed Ahmed averted his gaze and said nothing. He only agreed to respond to examination by his counsel, addressing the judges through an interpreter.

Mr. RABEI OSMAN EL SAYED AHMED (Defendant): (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: Your Highnesses, never, never have I had any relation with these events that happened in Madrid, he said.

There's tremendous public pressure for convictions in this trial and national press coverage has not always given the defendants the benefit of the doubt.

Antonio Alburka(ph) is one of the defense lawyers.

Mr. ANTONIO ALBURKA (Defense lawyer): (Speaking foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: We hope the rule of law and common sense will prevail and that however hard it may be, the judges will respond to legal reasoning and the presumption of innocence, he said.

The trial is expected to last at least until July. The other 28 accused are scheduled to testify, and after them more than 700 witnesses and victims of the bombings.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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