By Pamela Rolfe
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
MADRID, April 11 -- A Spanish judge indicted 29 people Tuesday for alleged roles in the deadly 2004 Madrid train bombings and concluded that the attack was carried out by a local radical Islamic cell that was inspired but not directed by al-Qaeda.
After a two-year investigation, Judge Juan del Olmo handed down a 1,471-page report and the first indictments, charging six people with 191 counts of terrorist murder and 1,755 attempted murders. The 23 other people were charged with collaborating in the plot.
Explosives-filled backpacks were detonated by cell phones on the morning of March 11, 2004, ripping apart four rush-hour commuter trains. One hundred ninety-one people died and 1,800 were injured in what remains Europe's second-worst attack by terrorists after the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The bombers' alleged ideological leader and six other men blew themselves up three weeks after the attack as police closed in on their Madrid apartment hide-out. But several of the people indicted Tuesday are described as senior members of the conspiracy.
They include Jamal Zougam, 32, a Moroccan. He is accused as a material author of the synchronized attack and charged with murder, attempted murder and membership in a terrorist group.
According to the indictment, Zougam supplied the cell phones that detonated the 10 backpacks used in the attacks. In addition, four witnesses identified him as having placed dark blue bags under different seats on trains that blew up.
Youssef Belhadj, Hassam El Haski and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed -- known as "Mohamed the Egyptian" and currently on trial in Italy on separate terrorism charges -- are also accused of membership in a terror group, murder and attempted murder.
Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a former miner who allegedly provided the bombers with plastic explosives stolen from a mine in northern Spain, was charged with 192 murders. They included that of a policeman who was killed during the attempt to arrest suspected bombers at the Madrid apartment.
The judge discussed the local nature of the conspiracy at length in his report. "If it is true that the operative capacity of al Qaeda has lessened in the past few years, it is not noticeable in a sustained decrease in its activity," del Olmo wrote. "From the point of view of the threat, regional networks and local groups have acquired greater importance."
Del Olmo highlighted a trend of Moroccans and Algerians working together in radical Islamic groups in Spain. "It is a very noteworthy change, given that until relatively recently Algerian groups in Spain were homogenous in so far as nationality, and the relationship between Moroccan and Algerian jihadists was scarce," he wrote.
The 29 indicted people include 15 Moroccans, one Algerian, one Egyptian, one Lebanese, one Syrian and one Syrian with Spanish nationality. Also indicted were nine Spaniards, most on charges of having helped the bombers obtain their explosives.
According to Del Olmo, the bombers studied a report posted on the Web site of the Global Islamic Media Front in which a committee of al-Qaeda experts suggested an attack in Spain before the general elections of March 14, 2004. At the time, Spain had 1,300 troops in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led forces.
The indictment details Spanish intelligence warnings to then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar that Spain was one of a group of European countries at high risk of an Islamic terrorist attack.
The bombings took place three days before the election. Aznar initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA. But as evidence mounted of Islamic involvement, Spanish voters turned against Aznar and unseated his Popular Party. The Socialist Party, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, won the election and quickly fulfilled a campaign promise to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.
Some people in Spain have speculated that ETA helped the bombers in some way. The indictment draws no such link. "The judge has only addressed what evidence there is," a court spokeswoman said.
A trial is likely to begin next year.