|Rabei Osman, who is accused of being a key planner of the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, would only answer questions from his attorney. (Sergio Barranechea/associated press)|
Bombing trial opens in Madrid
Accused planner denies taking part
MADRID -- An Egyptian accused of being a mastermind of the Madrid train bombings told a court yesterday that he had no involvement in the deadly attack, despite wiretapped conversations in which he allegedly boasted that he was the brains behind it.
Rabei Osman testified as the trial of 29 defendants opened. He is among three men accused of planning the bombings that tore through packed commuter trains March 11, 2004, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800 in Europe's worst Islamic terrorist attack.
Osman refused to answer any questions from prosecutors, then said he had nothing to do with the attack under questioning from his own attorney.
"I never had any relation to the events which occurred in Madrid," he said in Arabic through a translator, adding that he condemned the bombings "unconditionally and completely."
Osman was arrested in Italy in June 2004 on a warrant from Spanish authorities. Italian prosecutors have said they tapped phone conversations in which he told an associate in Italy, "I'm the thread to Madrid, it's my work."
On the stand, Osman denied being a member of Al Qaeda or any other Islamic extremist group, and said he knew other alleged members of the Madrid bombing cell only as acquaintances at a mosque in the Spanish capital.
The trial has ignited painful memories of what Spaniards consider the nation's most traumatic event since the 1930s civil war. Images of body bags and twisted train cars were replayed throughout the day on Spanish TV, a grim reminder of the devastation.
Some 100 experts and 600 witnesses are likely to be called during the trial, among them people whose lives were shattered by the blasts.
Testimony is expected to last more than five months and a verdict is expected in late October.
"I hope justice is rendered and that there is a worthy sentence," Pilar Manjon, president of an association of March 11 victims, said before the proceedings got under way. Her 20-year-old son was killed in the bombings.
Of the defendants, Manjon said, "I will look them right in the eye. They destroyed my life, but they will not destroy me."
Eighteen of the suspects watched the proceedings from a bulletproof chamber while the other 11, who are out on bail, sat in the main section of the courtroom.
Many of the suspects in the chamber avoided looking at the victims' relatives sitting in the courtroom, and some turned their backs to them.
Seven lead defendants face possible jail terms of 30 years for each of the 191 killings and 18 years each for 1,820 attempted murders.
However, under Spanish law, the maximum time anyone can serve for a terrorist conviction is 40 years. There is no death penalty in Spain.
Other defendants face lesser charges ranging from belonging to a terrorist organization to stealing explosives from a mine in northern Spain and passing them on to the bombers in exchange for money and drugs.