- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

MADRID — The trial of 29 suspects in the 2004 Madrid terrorist attacks opened yesterday under tight security, and a defendant accused of being one of the masterminds of the bombings said he had no involvement despite intercepted phone conversations in which he purportedly bragged about it.

Egyptian Rabei Osman was the first defendant to take the stand, initially refusing to answer any questions about the commuter train bombings that killed 191 and wounded more than 1,800 in Spain’s deadliest terror attack.

Under questioning by his own attorney, he condemned the attacks and denied being involved.

“Your honor, I never had any relation to the events which occurred in Madrid,” he testified in Arabic through an interpreter. “Obviously I condemn these attacks unconditionally and completely. This is a conviction I have very clearly and absolutely.”

He also said he condemned the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and the London subway bombings in July 2005.

Mr. Osman was arrested in Italy in June 2004 on a warrant from Spanish authorities. Of the 29 defendants on trial, he is one of three accused of masterminding the attacks.

Italian prosecutors have said they tapped phone conversations in which Mr. Osman told an associate in Italy: “I’m the thread to Madrid, it’s my work.”

The prime suspects include Spaniard Emilio Trashorras, a former miner who is accused of supplying the dynamite used in the massacre; Moroccans Jamal Zougam and Abdelmajid Bouchar, who are accused of planting some of the bombs; and Moroccan Youssef Belhadj, who prosecutors say made key decisions such as picking the day of the attack and giving the plotters last-minute instructions.

Eighteen of the suspects watched the proceedings from a bulletproof chamber, while the other 11, who are out on bail, sat in the main section of the courtroom. All 29 defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The trial promises to be highly emotional, dredging up terrifying memories of the attack, in which 10 backpack bombs ripped through four packed commuter trains. It has been called modern Spain’s most traumatic event since the civil war of the 1930s.

About 100 experts and 600 witnesses are likely to be called, among them people who had their lives shattered in the March 11, 2004, blasts. Testimony is expected to last more than five months and a verdict is expected in late October.

“I hope justice is rendered and that there is a worthy sentence,” Pilar Manjon, president of an association of March 11 victims, said before the proceedings got under way. She lost her 20-year-old son in the bombings.

Of the defendants, Mrs. Manjon said: “I will look them right in the eye. They destroyed my life but they will not destroy me.”

Seven lead defendants face potential jail terms of 30 years for each of the 191 killings and 18 years apiece for 1,820 attempted murders. But under Spanish law the maximum time anyone can serve for a terrorist conviction is 40 years. There is no death penalty in Spain.

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