Spanish Court Throws Out 9/11 Conviction
Thursday, June 1, 2006; 3:05 PM
MADRID, Spain -- Spain's Supreme Court on Thursday threw out an al-Qaida suspect's conviction for conspiracy to commit murder in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, weeks after prosecutors acknowledged the evidence against him was weak.
The court upheld a separate conviction against Syrian-born Spaniard Imad Yarkas for belonging to a terrorist organization.
Before the ruling, Yarkas had been the only person in the world with a standing conviction over the Sept. 11 attacks after a trial. Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States, pleaded guilty in April 2004 and was sentenced to life in prison in May. He did not stand trial. A Moroccan convicted in Germany in 2003 was later acquitted on appeal.
The Supreme Court also confirmed the acquittal of three other suspects accused of belonging to or collaborating with al-Qaida. Moroccans Driss Chebli, Sadik Merizak and Abdelaziz Benyaich had already been released in April at the request of prosecutors.
The court announced only its verdicts in the Yarkas appeal and the other cases, not its grounds for the decisions. The explanation is expected to be released in a few days, court officials said.
Yarkas is alleged to have founded and led an al-Qaida cell in Spain, which investigators say was a key staging ground for the attacks along with Germany. He was one of 18 people found guilty of terrorism charges in a trial that ended in September 2005.
Yarkas was sentenced to 15 years for conspiracy to commit murder in the Sept. 11 attacks and 12 years for belonging to a terrorist organization. He was the only person at the Spanish trial convicted specifically of Sept. 11 involvement. Chebli and one other man facing charges of planning Sept. 11 were acquitted.
Yarkas appealed his convictions. In April, a new set of prosecutors different from the ones at the first trial asked the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction in the U.S. attacks, citing a lack of evidence.
A three-judge panel of a lower court that returned the initial ruling against Yarkas in September said he was innocent of a more serious charge of being accomplice to mass murder. But it found him guilty of "conspiracy with the suicide terrorist" Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and other members of the Hamburg, Germany-based cell that staged the Sept. 11 attacks.
The sentence said Yarkas "knew of the sinister plans" for Sept. 11 and "assumed them as his own, receiving regular updates on the preparations that preceded the attacks."
However in April, prosecutor Fernando Sequeros said that while Yarkas was an "evil" man who embraced al-Qaida's ideas, there was no firm evidence he took part in Sept. 11 planning.
He said the proof presented against Yarkas at the trial _ his phone number was found in an address book located at Atta's Hamburg apartment, and Yarkas was once wiretapped while talking to a man who spoke about aviation classes _ was "inconsistent, almost nonexistent."
Sequeros said it might be argued that Yarkas knew of plans for Sept. 11.
"That is one thing," the prosecutor said. "But it is another thing altogether to say he planned it and assumed the conspiracy as his own."