41 Muslims -including Al Jazeera journalist- on trial in Spain for aiding 9/11 hijackers
Syrian and Moroccan Muslims met with Mohammed Atta in Spain in 2001 and gave him videotape of WTC
MIM: According to Spanish magistrate Garzon Balthasar, Al Qaeda has been monitored since the 1990's in Spain. It took a train bombing in Madrid to finally decide to crack down on the group. In what is apparently a case of what Dr.Daniel Pipes termed "education by murder". Initial newspaper accounts stated that 25 Muslims were on trial but a later account by the Financial Times put the number at 41. This number may have included defendants who were at a separate trial.
Photograph: Sergio Barrenechea/Reuters
Spain put global terrorism in the dock on Friday, with the mass trial of 41 men accused of being accomplices in the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.
They are also accused of belonging to al-Qaeda, the Islamist terrorist network.
The trial, which is being held in a purpose-built, high-security court on the outskirts of Madrid, will be the first in Spain to address the threat of global terrorism. It will set an important legal precedent, particularly for the forthcoming trial of Islamist militants charged over the train bombings in Madrid in March last year.
Public prosecutors allege that some of the defendants charged with setting up al-Qaeda's Spanish cell, and with providing logistical support for the attacks against the US, also had links with the perpetrators of the Madrid bombings.
Only 24 of the defendants indicted by Baltazar Garzón, Spain's top anti-terrorist judge, will be present at the trial. Some of the accused, including Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, remain in hiding. Others, such as Mamoun Darkanzali, a German of Syrian origin, have appealed against extradition to Spain.
Germany's constitutional court is currently studying Mr Darkanzali's case, which hinges on whether the European common arrest warrant contravenes a German law banning the extradition of citizens who have not been charged with crimes in Germany. Mr Darkanzali's appeal underscores the difficulties encountered by investigating magistrates such as Mr Garzón, who must grapple with an international terrorist network that transcends national juris-dictions.
The defendants include Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a Spaniard of Syrian origin, who has been charged with being the leader of al-Qaeda in Spain. Mr Barakat is accused of recruiting volunteers and sending them to al-Qaeda training camps in Indonesia, Bosnia and Afghanistan. He and others are also accused of providing logistical support for the suicide pilots who took part in the attacks in the US.
Spanish police have established that Mohamed Atta, one of the suicide pilots, went to Madrid and Salou, a beach resort south of Barcelona, in the summer before the attacks. Mr Barakat has denied the charges, and any links with the Madrid bombings. Defence lawyers say they are worried that because of the Madrid bombings, the defendants will not be given a fair trial.
"Judges are under immense political pressure to hand out guilty verdicts because Spain has to be seen to be doing something in the wake of the train bombings," says José Luis Galán, a lawyer defending Taysir Alouny Kate, a journalist working for the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network, who has been charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation.
Spanish judges have three decades of experience in terrorism cases related to Eta, the Basque separatist group that has killed more than 800 people. But Eta is a hierarchical group, whereas al-Qaeda is a loose network that will take prosecutors into uncharted legal territory.
Judges will have to decide whether defendants accused of petty criminal offences, such as forging passports and credit card fraud, knowingly took part in a broader terrorist conspiracy. Even the definition of terrorism characterised in Spain as the attempt to subvert the constitutional order might have to be revisited to take account of al-Qaeda's transnational activities.
Imad Yarkas : 'Sleeper' who posed as used car salesman was father of six and said to have given 'reconaissance' video of WTC to Atta
Guardian UnlimitedA mass trial of 24 alleged members of al-Qaida began in Madrid today, with three of the defendants accused of involvement in the September 11 terror attacks in the US.
The defendants, who are mostly Muslims of Syrian and Moroccan origin, sat on wooden benches in a cramped, bulletproof chamber in a makeshift courtroom as the trial, before a three-judge panel, got under way amid high security. The court clerk read out the names of the defendants and the charges against them.
Spain is the second country after Germany to try suspects over the 2001 attacks, in which US passenger planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
The main suspect in the trial is Imad Yarkas, a 42-year-old father of six who, posing as a used-car salesman, is alleged to have overseen a cell that provided logistical cover for September 11 plotters such as Mohamed Atta, who is believed to have piloted one of the two airliners that destroyed the World Trade Centre.
Before the trial began, police armed with submachine guns and shotguns stood guard as vans brought the handcuffed defendants to the courthouse, unloading them behind a tall iron fence and escorting them into the squat, redbrick building on the outskirts of Madrid, which has been specially adapted for the trial.
A police helicopter circled low overhead and agents with bomb-sniffing German shepherd dogs searched shrubs in a park across the street.
The trial is the culmination of an eight-year investigation by the anti-terrorism magistrate Baltasar Garzón that found that Muslim militants leading quiet lives as businessmen, labourers and waiters had operated freely in Spain for years, allegedly recruiting men for terrorist training in Afghanistan, preaching violence and laundering money for al-Qaida operations.
Two other suspects are accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks: one is a Moroccan, Driss Chebli, 33, who allegedly helped Mr Yarkas arrange a planning meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Atta and the attack's coordinator, Ramzi bin al-Shibh; the second defendant is Syrian-born Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, 39, who made detailed video footage of the World Trade Centre and other landmarks while visiting the United States in 1997.
Those tapes were eventually passed on to "operative members of al-Qaida and would become the preliminary information on the attacks against the twin towers", Mr Garzon wrote in a September 2003 indictment against the three men and 32 other suspects, including Osama Bin Laden himself and other key members of al-Qaida.
Driss Chebli, left, and Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, center, are among 24 defendants suspected of being members of an al-Qaida cell who went on trial Friday in Madrid, Spain. http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/starmedia/71851 -------------------------------------------------------
The Christian Science Monitor and The Associated Press
MADRID - The one man officially accused of murder in the Sept. 11 attacks goes on trial today. Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias "Abu Dahdah," faces a prosecutor who seeks to punish him with a 25-year sentence for each of the estimated 3,000 people who died in the attacks on U.S. soil.
If Yarkas is convicted, he will serve his sentence not in an American prison, but a Spanish one, for this trial is taking place in Madrid.
Spaniards are watching his trial closely as it is expected to set a precedent for future judgments of suspects in the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people. Twenty-four men stand accused of belonging to a terrorist organization in the trial that begins today, but Yarkas, 42, a Syrian-born Spaniard with a wife and six children, is the most prominent.
The trial culminates a lengthy inquiry by Baltasar Garzón, Spain's top anti-terrorism magistrate, who began investigating Muslim militants in Spain in the mid-1990s and started arresting Sept. 11 suspects just two months after hijacked jets struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Under the guise of being a small-time merchant importing used cars for resale, Yarkas is alleged to have overseen an al-Qaida cell that provided logistical cover for Sept. 11 plotters such as Mohamed Atta, believed to have piloted one of the jets that struck the World Trade Center.
Two other suspects also are accused specifically of helping plan the attack. They are Moroccan Driss Chebli, 33, who allegedly helped Yarkas arrange a meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Atta and Sept. 11 coordinator Ramzi bin al-Shibh; and Syrian-born Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, 39, who shot detailed video of the World Trade Center and other landmarks in 1997.
The videotapes were eventually passed on to "operative members of al-Qaida and would become the preliminary information on the attacks against the twin towers," Garzón wrote in a September 2003 indictment against the three men and 32 other suspects, including al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and fugitive Moroccan Amer Azizi. The indictment was later broadened to 41 people.
Garzón has said his investigation showed Muslim militants leading discreet lives operated freely in Spain for years, allegedly recruiting men for terrorist training in Afghanistan, preaching holy war and laundering money for al-Qaida operations.
Under Spanish law, terrorism is classified as a crime that can be prosecuted here even if it is alleged to have been committed in another country. Garzón also argues he can go after al-Qaida because the Sept. 11 plot was hatched in part in Spain.
Yarkas' lawyer, Jacobo Teijelo, insists Spain lacks jurisdiction because proceedings are under way in the United States - against French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person indicted in America in the Sept. 11 attacks. He has yet to go on trial.
Teijelo said Spanish prosecutors "have no solid evidence of anything" and he found it odd that if Yarkas and his alleged accomplices were in fact Sept. 11 plotters, the United States hasn't sought their extradition. "That is jarring from the point of view of common sense," the lawyer said.
Those standing trial starting today are the 24 who are in Spanish custody. The rest of the 41 men indicted are either fugitives or in custody in other countries.
Besides Yarkas and his two alleged accomplices, the defendants are charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, weapons possession or other offenses, but not specific involvement in the Sept. 11 plot. They include Al Jazeera journalist Tayssir Alouny, who is accused of belonging to al-Qaida.
The trial is being held under tight security at a trade-fair pavilion. The normal venue for such proceedings would be the National Court, but it was considered too small for a trial with so many defendants, lawyers and reporters. The trial is expected to last for up to four months.
In Spain, the maximum time the defendants could serve for a terrorism conviction is 40 years.