30 accused over Madrid 'bomb plot'

From: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/10/15/spain.terrortrial/index.html

Oct 15, 2007

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Thirty suspected Islamic terrorists went on trial Monday in a courthouse they are charged with plotting to destroy with a truck bomb.

The alleged terrorists planned to kill hundreds of judges, prosecutors, support staff and police officers who work daily at the National Court, which tries cases of terrorism, according to a prosecution document viewed by CNN.

They also planned to destroy files against other Islamic terrorist suspects, including those charged in the Madrid train bombings, it added.

First on the stand was Mohamed Boukiri, 33, of Algeria. Prosecutors said he was ready to be the suicide bomber against the courthouse.

Boukiri is charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack and membership in a terrorist group. Presiding Judge Alfonso Guevara said Boukiri could get 27 years if convicted.

Prosecutors identified the alleged ringleader of the plot as Abderrahmane Tahiri, 34, of Morocco.

Tahiri sought to obtain 500 kg (1,100 lbs) of explosives for the alleged attack ijn the summer of 2004, months after the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded 1,800 others, the document said.

"The level of preparation for the attack had reached the point where" Tahiri and six other defendents "had expressed willingness to blow themselves up in carrying out the attack against the National Court," the document said.

Others on trial allegedly played supporting roles.

A court source told CNN that all of the defendants have insisted on their innocence at arraignments and other pre-trial hearings. Six defense lawyers who represent 11 defendants said their clients pleaded innocent in pre-trial hearings.

Police arrested most of the suspects in October 2004. Many of them had been convicted of other crimes and were serving time in prison, the document said.

The trial started in a secure basement courtroom equipped with bullet-proof glass separating the defendants from the three judges who will hear the case, and more bullet-proof glass separating the public from the court. The proceedings had been suspended for 10 minutes because of sound problems.

Twenty defendants were separated from the court by bullet-proof glass.

Ten defendants entered the court handcuffed and were seated in two rows flanked by four uniformed police officers. Handcuffs were removed from some of them.

The defendants include 19 Algerians, 5 Moroccans and others from Mauritania, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Spain.

Tahiri could get 66 years in prison if convicted on four counts: conspiracy to commit a deadly terrorist attack, leader of a terrorist group, document forgery, and counterfeiting for terrorist aims, the document said.

Some others could get just 10 years if convicted on one count of belonging to a terrorist group.

Prosecutors base their case on testimony and documentation provided by a Moroccan man operating as a police informant and on wiretaps and intercepted correspondence between some of the suspects, according to the document and the court source.

There are streets on three sides of the courthouse. The main street runs next to the building. An attack "would have been easy" at the time, the court source said.

But the courthouse has since increased security, installing thick metal barriers to block traffic on the side and back of the building.

Tahiri started the alleged terrorist group while serving a sentence in the Topas prison in northwest Salamanca province. He recruited and indoctrinated some fellow inmates, and the group later spread to another prison as transfers occurred, and to eastern and southern Spain, outside of prisons, the document said.

Two of the defendants, Dibali Abdellah, 32, of Algeria, and Baanou Abdullah, 22, of Lebanon, also corresponded with three men -- Mohamed Amine Salameh, Mohamed Abouhahima and Nidaly Ayyad -- who were serving sentences in the United States for their links to the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the document said.

Abdellah faces 12 years if convicted of leadership in a terrorist group and Abdullah could get 10 years if convicted of membership in a terrorist group, the document said.

Another defendant, Hocine Kedache, 51, helped hide a key fugitive of the Madrid train bombings who later blew himself up with other prime suspects in a suburb of Madrid. Kedache could get 10 years if convicted of membership in a terrorist group, the document said.

The trial is expected to last until Christmas and the initial testimony by 30 defendants could take weeks, the court source said.