ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A Spanish court convicted 21 people today for the 2004 commuter train bombings in Madrid. 191 people died and 1700 were injured in the attacks - the worst al Qaida-inspired act of terrorism in Europe. The court acquitted seven defendants, including several the prosecution had accused of organizing the bombings.
Jerome Socolovsky is in Madrid.
JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: The verdicts came after four and a half months of testimony and three more months of judges deliberating over the evidence in Europe's biggest trial for Islamist terrorism. The president of the court, Javier Gomez Bermudez, read out the sentences.
Judge JAVIER GOMEZ BERMUDEZ (Chief Judge, Spain Anti-terrorist Court): (Speaking in foreign language)
Spanish defendant Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras was found guilty of stealing the explosives from a mine in northern Spain where he used to work and selling it to the terrorists. He was given 25 years for each of the 191 people who perished, and 10 years for each of the injured. But the longest prison term that anyone can actually serve in Spain is 40 years. Two other defendants with sentences of more than 40,000 years, were Moroccans Jamal Zougam and Othman Gnaoui.
Judge BERMUDEZ: (Speaking in foreign language)
SOCOLOVSKY: When the judge acquitted seven of the defendants, he had to call for order in the court. One of the names he read out was that of an Egyptian, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. Prosecutors had played a wiretap of a phone call recorded in Italy after the bombings. They said it was him bragging that the Madrid attacks were his idea. But Rabei Osman's lawyer, Endika Zulueta, said the voice didn't belong to his client.
Mr. ENDIKA ZULUETA (Lawyer): (Speaking in foreign language)
SOCOLOVSKY: I believe that for once, justice has truly been done, the lawyer said. What they attempted to do is try a personality rather than the facts. They talked about him being very religious, very Islamist and very extremist. These are not facts on which to convict a person, the lawyer added.
The court was packed with victims and their relatives who had come to hear the verdict. As they spilled into the corridor afterward, some were very angry. Jesus Ramirez is president of March 11 victims.
Mr. JESUS RAMIREZ (Commuter train bombing victim): (Speaking in foreign language)
SOCOLOVSKY: They were convicted with very light sentences. Many of us are very disappointed, said Ramirez.
He still has pieces of shrapnel from one of the bombs embedded in his body. The explosions rip apart four commuter trains during rush hour on March 11th, 2004.
Many Spaniards are still haunted by the images of days and bloody passengers emerging from stations, and cell phones ringing on corpses. Three days later, Spain held a scheduled election and voters booted out the conservative popular party of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Aznar had supported the United States in the invasion of Iraq and initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA for the bombings.
To this day, Spain's main political factions, the opposition popular party and the ruling socialist of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, bicker over what happened and accused each other of trying to make political capital out of the terrorist attack.
Speaking in parliament before the verdict, socialist deputy Diego Lopez Garrido said Spain had shown to the world that the rule of law is the best defense against terrorism.
Mr. DIEGO LOPEZ GARRIDO (Socialist party spokesman): We will have to have a big trial about exceptional measures at Guantanamo, for example.
SOCOLOVSKY: The opposition Popular Party accuses the socialist government of limiting the scope of the investigation, and says the Spanish people have a right to know who ordered the attack.
Back at the court house, as police vans took the convicted defendants back to prison, Isabel Casanova stood in the street, wearing a black ribbon on her jacket. She lost a son and a husband in the bombings.
Ms. ISABEL CASANOVA: It's clear to me that the reason for all of this was our participation in the Iraq war, she said.
For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.