- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

From combined dispatches

MADRID — A Spanish judge charged four more suspects with terrorism in connection with the Madrid train bombings and ordered them jailed in connection with the suspected al Qaeda-linked attack that killed 202 persons.

The simultaneous bombings of four commuter trains is believed to be the first Islamist strike in the West since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The charges against the three Moroccans and one Spaniard came after hours of questioning, and bring to nine the number of persons charged. High Court Judge Juan del Olmo ordered a fifth suspect, a Moroccan, released for lack of evidence.

Several of those detained are Moroccans thought to have links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

Judge del Olmo started with a Spanish man suspected of helping the conspirators steal the explosives used in the attack, which also injured more than 1,800 people.

Police think he had no idea of the bomb plot and was told the dynamite would be used at a mine in Morocco.

Court sources said yesterday that three more persons had been arrested in Madrid’s multiracial district of Lavapies over the weekend while another was arrested in Getafe, a suburb of the capital. All were believed to be Arabs.

It was the third batch of arrests — five suspects were picked up two days after the March 11 attacks and another five were rounded up Thursday.

All of them are being held under Spain’s tough counterterrorism laws without access to defense lawyers until summoned before Judge del Olmo.

Judge del Olmo accused three Moroccan suspects last week of 190 murders and 1,400 attempted murders, and of belonging to a terrorist group. They denied any links to al Qaeda and insisted they were at home sleeping when the trains were blown up.

The bombings have sparked a security shake-up across the European Union and put Western capitals on alert.

Security officials from the European Union’s five biggest members began a two-day meeting in Madrid yesterday to coordinate the bomb probe and discuss how to counter the threat from militant Islamists in Europe.

The meeting is limited to Spain, Britain, Italy, Germany and France. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said in Brussels that restricting the list to Europe’s big five was a mistake.

Cross-border intelligence cooperation is widely seen as crucial to trace links between the attack and suspected al Qaeda-linked cells.

But the big five are reluctant to share their information with other nations for fear of leaks.

The Madrid bombings were claimed by a militant Islamic group aligning itself with al Qaeda.

The attack came three days before an election that handed a shock victory to Spain’s opposition Socialists, ousting the ruling center-right party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Incoming Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said he will stick to a campaign pledge to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes control by midyear.

That promise has upset Washington, which wants Spain to stay the course.

Mr. Aznar’s support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq was deeply unpopular in Spain, and the train bombings led voters to punish his ruling party at the ballot box.

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