Judge charges 29 over Madrid train bombings

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The Independent Online

A Spanish judge has launched one of Europe's largest terrorism prosecutions, charging 29 people in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

After a two-year investigation, Judge Juan Del Olmo charged five people, all Moroccan nationals, with 191 counts of murder and 1,755 attempted murders, when they blew up three commuter trains in the Spanish capital. Another 23 were charged with collaboration.

The indictment, which runs to almost 1,750 pages, concludes that the attacks were carried out by local radical Islamists who were inspired by, but not directly linked to, al-Qa'ida.

The 29th man charged over the bombings was Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a former miner who provided the bombers with plastic explosives. He was charged with 192 murders, including the death of a policeman killed during a raid on suspected bombers a few weeks after the attacks.

The train bombings led to the downfall of the then conservative government of Jose Maria Aznar, who initially blamed the bombings on the Basque separatist group Eta.

Among the five Moroccan nationals charged with murder was Jamal Zougam, the first man arrested after the massacre. A holdall, found in the wreckage of one of the trains contained an unexploded bomb connected by wires to a mobile phone. Police were able to trace the SIM card to a phone shop owned by Mr Zougam. His fingerprints were also found in the house outside Madrid where the bombs were manufactured.

According to the indictment, another Moroccan, Abdelmajid Bouchar, was in the bomb-making apartment when a separate group of alleged attackers blew themselves up. He was downstairs when the apartment was surrounded by anti-terrorist police. He is accused of telephoning his associates to warn them of an impending raid by the police before escaping.

Mr Bouchar was arrested in Serbia a year later, while carrying false Iraqi papers, and extradited to Spain. Both Mr Zougam and Mr Bouchar and the three others named in the indictment had links to the Moroccan Islamic Fighters' Group (GICM), which carried out the Casablanca bombings in May 2003.

Mr Trashorras came into contact with the Islamic gang in jail while he was serving a sentence for drug dealing and the Moroccans were serving time for other non-terrorist crimes. He agreed to arrange the theft of the explosives from the mines where he had worked. His motivation was said to be purely financial.

Judge del Olmo said that he had investigated two separate networks - the first directly involved in the bombings and the second those who collaborated with the planning and helped the terrorists escape.

He concluded they had plotted the atrocity to coincide with the general election in Spain on 13 March and found no evidence linking the attacks to Eta.

But Vicente Martin Pujalte, of the conservative opposition party, said they were still unconvinced by the "insufficient conclusion". He said: "To say this is an autonomous cell who simply decided [to carry out the bombing] one morning seems a weak argument." He described the accused as "secondary actors" in the conspiracy.