What Germany has had a tough time doing, Spain accomplished in great order on Monday: 18 suspected al Qaeda were jailed for involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Imad Yarkas, the convicted cell leader, was given 27 years
Spain's High Court on Monday jailed 18 al Qaeda operatives, including the Syrian head of a Spanish-based cell found to have helped to organize the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, as Europe's largest trial involving Osama bin Laden's network concluded.
In a verdict that stretched to 445 pages, the three Spanish judges sentenced Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, to 27 years jail for conspiring to commit murder in the September 11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people. He was regarded as having led a Spanish-based al Qaeda cell under investigation since 1995.
Convicts arranged Atta meeting
The prosecution had accused Dahdah and a Moroccan, Driss Chebli, of arranging a July 2001 meeting in Tarragona, northeastern Spain, attended by Mohammed Atta, ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Prosecutor Pedro Rubira said the meeting "probably determined the date of the attacks on the United States." Chebli was given six years in jail after being found guilty of collaborating with al Qaeda.
But Syrian Abrash Ghalyoun, who along with Dahdah and Chebli had stood accused of aiding and abetting the carnage of Sept. 11, was freed along with five others found not guilty on lesser charges alleging al Qaeda collaboration.
Ghalyoun had been questioned about why he had videotaped the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York -- destroyed in the attacks -- in 1997.
The suspects behind bullet-proof glass in the Spanish courtroom
He said he was simply taking pictures as a tourist. The sentences of those found guilty of helping the group were a far cry from those which prosecutors had demanded after an outcome which suggested that a trial slated for next year of 28 mainly Moroccan suspects believed behind last year's Madrid train bombings will be at least as complex.
Al-Jazeera will appeal jailing of journalist
Prosecutors had wanted Dahdah, Chebli and Ghalyoun to be handed "exemplary" sentences of a record 74,377 years -- 25 years for each of the 2,973 Sept. 11 victims and 12 more for membership of a 'terrorist' organization. Under Spanish law they could only have served 30. Jailed for seven years was TV reporter Tayssir Alouny, who, while working for pan-Arab television station Al Jazeera in Afghanistan in 2001 secured an interview with bin Laden.
Al Jazeera never broadcast the interview which was, however, shown in edited form on CNN. Alouny, Syrian-born but a naturalized Spaniard, had faced a maximum nine years.
Fatima Zahra talks to reporters after the verdict
"My husband has been sent down for telling the truth... for doing his job. And he would do the same again," his wife Fatima Zahra told reporters after the sentencing.
Al Jazeera said it would appeal against the "unfair" conviction following a "verdict (which) is very disappointing," director general Waddah Khanfar told AFP in Doha.
"We still believe our colleague Tayssir is innocent of the charges against him," he added.
Alouny, who had insisted on his innocence
Alouny, in an interview
throughout the trial, was accused of acting as a financial courier to the group while in Afghanistan, Alouny said he was only doing his job as a journalist. The court said Alouny was not a member of the Dahdah-led Spanish cell, but "collaborated... in determined fashion" with al Qaeda and used his position to pass information to and from members of the organization.
Suspect brands trial a farce
The other 15 suspects to be jailed were given terms ranging from six to 11 years on charges relating to collaboration with the network, and a further six were acquitted.
In July testimony Abu Dahdah had branded the trial a farce. Of bin Laden, he said, "I know absolutely nothing of this man. I condemn what happened (on Sept. 11)."
He said accusations that he led a "soldiers of Allah" extremist group were "a myth -- totally false," and that Islam "clearly says that killing children, women, elderly people is wrong, as is bringing down buildings."
German-based suspect still at large
The trial heard testimony from 107 witnesses. They included Jamel Zougam, a Moroccan and alleged acquaintance of Abu Dahdah who is a prime suspect in the Madrid train bombings.
Spanish prosecutors had wanted to hear the testimony of Mahmoun Darkanzali, a Syrian married to a German, who was released by German police after they failed to find enough evidence to connect him with the Sept. 11 plotters. Darkanzali was arrested again this year in connection with the Madrid trial, but police were unable to extradite the suspect to Spain after the German parliament refused to implement Europe-wide arrest warrant legislation.
Mamoun Darkanzali after being released from Hamburg prison on July 18 this year
Germany has also had a tough time prosecuting suspected members of Atta's Hamburg group. Two suspects have had success overturning convictions for association with the Atta group in German courts.
The Madrid trial is being see as a test run for a massive trial next year of those involved in plotting and carrying out the train bombings in the Spanish capital that killed hundreds on March 11, 2003.