MADRID -- The man accused of leading a Spanish Al Qaeda cell denied charges that he helped organize the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by arranging a final planning meeting, telling judges yesterday that he had nothing to do with that act of ''terrible savagery."
Imad Yarkas, the main suspect in Spain's case against Al Qaeda, described himself as a hardworking father of six who struggled to make ends meet.
He took the stand on Day 2 of the trial of 24 terrorism suspects -- Europe's biggest court case against radical groups with alleged ties to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. If convicted, he faces a symbolic sentence of almost 75,000 years in prison -- 25 years for each of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Two alleged accomplices also face charges that they helped plot the Sept. 11 attacks, and 21 others are charged with belonging to a terrorist group, illegal weapons possession, and other offenses.
Yarkas, arrested in November 2001, denied leading a cell of radical Muslims with ties to Al Qaeda, or knowing two of the alleged Sept. 11 ringleaders.
Yarkas, 42, a Syrian-born Spanish citizen, was questioned about a Spanish indictment that accused him of arranging a July 2001 meeting in the Tarragona region of northeast Spain where Mohamed Atta, the lead suicide bomber, and purported Sept. 11 operations coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh allegedly discussed the final details.
Prosecutor Pedro Rubira provided no evidence. He simply asked Yarkas if he arranged such a meeting.
Yarkas said he had not. ''I don't know Ramzi Binalshibh. I don't know Mohamed Atta," he said. He called the Sept. 11 attacks ''terrible savagery," adding: ''I didn't have anything to do with it."
Yarkas also was asked about an August 2001 telephone conversation in which a Moroccan associate allegedly called him from London and said people he knew ''had entered the area of aviation and had even slashed the throat of the bird," according to a translation from Arabic contained in the September 2003 indictment against Yarkas.
The judge in charge of the terrorism investigation, Baltasar Garzon, has said the conversation suggests that the Moroccan, identified as Farid Hilali, was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, plot to hijack airliners. Hilali remains jailed in Britain fighting extradition to Spain.
Yarkas said yesterday that he could not remember the conversation clearly but said it had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. He asked to hear the tape again.
''This has nothing to do with what you say it does," Yarkas said.
The questioning followed this pattern for much of the day. Rubira addressed minutiae of Yarkas's activities as far back as a decade ago but did not present the court with evidence of wrongdoing.
Rubira also questioned Yarkas about his contacts with the other defendants and militant suspects abroad. Yarkas said he knew them only as acquaintances at mosques and members of Madrid's Muslim immigrant community.
Among those Yarkas acknowledged knowing in the 1990s was Mustafa Setmariam, a Syrian fugitive believed to be a senior Al Qaeda operative.
The United States last year offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
Yarkas said the two men took their children to the same school at a Madrid mosque, and ''we would see each other and chat."