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Madrid Suspects Accused of Terror Crimes in Court

DW Staff (nda)March 19, 2004

The five men detained on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid bombings appeared in court on Friday and were accused of terrorist crimes. Meanwhile, the investigation swept far and wide with arrests made across Europe.

Jamal Zougam is considered one of the main suspects in the Madrid bombing investigation.Image: AP

The five men arrested in connection with the Madrid bombings appeared in the Spanish capital's High Court on Friday where they were accused of terrorist crimes. The three Moroccans and two Indians repeatedly denied any involvement with al Qaeda throughout the seven-hour hearing which took place overnight and ended at 4 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Friday morning.

The suspects all maintain that they were asleep at home when bombs exploded on four packed commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, killing 202 people and injuring some 1,816 others. The attacks were the bloodiest since the Bali bombings in 2002 which killed a similar number of people when a series of car bombs went off in the crowded tourist areas on the Indonesian island.

Suspects deny links to al Qaeda

"The five detainees have denied any involvement... They have all said that when the attack took place on March 11 they were sleeping in their respective homes," a court source said. "They say they don't have any link with al Qaeda or any terrorist organization."

The Moroccans -- Jamal Zougam, his brother Mohamed Chaoui and Mohamed Bekkali -- were accused of 190 murders and belonging to a terrorist group. The counts of murder attributed to the group are thought to come from the number of identified victims at this time. That figure could increase in the coming days. They were also accused of 1,400 attempted murders, a figure which approaches the number of wounded, four "terrorist acts", presumably one for each train bombed, and stealing a vehicle.

Zougam, considered to be one of the main suspects in the bombings, wept in court before being returned to his cell where he reportedly prayed.

The Indians, Suresh Kumar and Vinay Khohy, were accused of cooperating with a terrorist group and forging documents. The court ordered that all five would be held in custody and were taken to Soto de Real jail, just north of Madrid where it is believed they were being held in solitary confinement.

Formal charges to follow initial hearing

Under the Spanish legal system, the accusations leveled at the suspects points to the fact that the court considers there is a case to answer, providing grounds to keep them in custody. A decision on formal charges will be taken at a later date.

Handy Laden in Madrid Terrorismus
A boy walks past the Nuevo Siglo telephone calling center in Madrid.Image: AP

The three Moroccans were all arrested in a telephone shop run by Zougam in Madrid. The men were detained after investigators followed up leads associated with the discovery of a stolen mobile phone in a bag along with a bomb that failed to go off on the morning of the bombings.

Raids on Moroccan group across Europe

Meanwhile, the investigation into the bombings continues. Four North Africans and a Spaniard were arrested in Spain on Thursday and are expected to appear in court next week. The Spaniard, captured near Oviedo in northern Spain, is suspected of stealing the locally-made explosives used.

Elsewhere investigators are pursuing possible links between the Madrid attack and the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed 45 people. In Belgium on Friday, anti-terrorist police arrested a suspect wanted in connection with the Casablanca bombings after raids across the country.

The police raided 20 properties in cities across Belgium, including Brussels and Antwerp, as part of an investigation into North African individuals who had undergone paramilitary training in camps in Afghanistan, according to a police statement.

Casablanca link under scrutiny

Bombenanschlag in Casablanca
Four explosions tore through Casablanca killing 20 people.Image: AP

"One of the people arrested is the subject of an international alert by Moroccan authorities following the attack in Casablanca on May 15, 2003," the statement read, adding that police had also seized suspicious documents.

The investigation into the militant organization, the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group (GMIC) had been stepped up in the wake of the Madrid bombings when the identity of some of those detained in connection with the attacks caused alarm. Jamal Zougam reportedly left Morocco three weeks after the Casablanca suicide attacks. Morocco has investigators in Spain helping in the Madrid investigation, according to officials in Rabat, suggesting that links with the GMIC were being taken very seriously.