- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

MADRID | A court on Thursday cleared four of the 21 people charged for crimes related to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Europe’s deadliest Islamist attack.

The court also upheld the acquittal of “Mohamed the Egyptian,” Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, who was accused of being one of the masterminds behind the bombings.

The court overturned an Oct. 31, 2007, ruling, which found three of the men guilty of being members of the radical Islamist cell that carried out the March 11 bombings that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.

A fourth man was cleared of trafficking explosives.

Basel Ghalyoun, Mouhannad Almallah Dabas and Abdelilah Fadual el Akil were acquitted of belonging to a terrorist or armed group. All three are from Middle East countries. Raul Gonzalez, a Spaniard, was acquitted of supplying explosives.

The Spanish court ruled Thursday that because “Mohamed the Egyptian” had already been sentenced to eight years in prison in Italy for association with a terror group, he could not be condemned again for the same crime, a court official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of departmental rules. The court also upheld his acquittal on the mass murder charges, saying there was insufficient evidence.

The initial reaction of victims groups was to put a brave face on the decision, which also reduced the sentences of five men by between one and three years.

“These are technical changes that don’t change the nature of the attack and the basis of the sentence,” Jose Maria Fuster Fabra, a lawyer for one victims group, told Reuters news agency. “This decision upholds the points we have defended from the beginning.”

The initial October ruling also cleared three men of masterminding the attack and acquitted seven others.

Included in Thursday’s appeal ruling was a decision to sentence Antonio Toro of Spain to four years imprisonment for trafficking explosives.

Three men - two Moroccans and a Spaniard who provided the bombers with explosives - were handed down sentences that could keep them in prison for 40 years, the maximum in Spanish law.

Ten bombs packed into sports bags and detonated by mobile phones tore through the trains in 2004, leaving the tracks strewn with bodies.

Three weeks later, seven men, including two suspected ring leaders of the train bombings, blew themselves up in a suburban apartment after police closed in on them. The explosives were the same as those used in the March 11 attack.

The court laid most of the charges at the feet of three men sentenced to thousands of years in prison. The magistrate who investigated the bombings said the attack was inspired by, but not directed by, al Qaeda.

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