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40,000-Year Sentences

DW staff (ncy)October 31, 2007

Spain's anti-terrorism court on Wednesday, Oct. 31, sentenced three men to thousands of years in jail for the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that killed 191 and injured over 1,800.

A police officer stands in front of a glass cage holding the Madrid train bomb suspects at the national Court in Madrid
The defendants all pleaded innocentImage: AP

Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez declared three of 28 defendants guilty of involvement in the March 11, 2004, attacks on Madrid commuter trains. The men received maximum sentences for their roles, in each case amounting to thousands of years in jail, though by Spanish law they can serve no more than 40 years.

Moroccans Jamal Zougam and Otman el-Gnaoui were each sentenced to more than 40,000 years in prison for murder and additional crimes. Spaniard Emilio Suarez Trashorras was found guilty of supplying explosives and sentenced to over 35,000 years in jail.

Seven people -- including Egyptian Rabei Osman el-Sayed Ahmed, who was one of those suspected of masterminding the attacks -- were acquitted. The remaining defendants were found guilty of lesser crimes, such as membership in a terrorist organization.

"Today justice was done and we must now look to the future, strengthening coexistence," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said after the court handed down its verdict, in comments broadcast on Spanish television.

Most of the defendents were of North-African origin and nine were Spanish. Among the defendants was one woman, who was accused of supplying stolen dynamite. All 28 insisted they were innocent.

The attackers planted 10 backpack bombs on four commuter trains during rush hour on the morning of March 11.

It was the most deadly terrorist attack Spain has ever experienced.

Suicide to avoid capture

The bombers allegedly acted out of allegiance to the al Qaeda terror network and were protesting the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spanish investigators said the guilty parties had not received direct orders or financial support from al Qaeda.

Seven people suspected of involvement in the attacks avoided capture by committing suicide three weeks after the attacks once Spanish police identified their whereabouts.

Spanish railway workers and police examine the debris of a destroyed train at Madrid's Atocha railway station on March 12, 2004
The bombs hit during morning rush hourImage: AP
A police van believed to be carrying the Madrid train bomb suspects at the National Court in Madrid on Wednesday
Security was high at the trialImage: AP

The trial took place from mid-February until early July. Around 300 witnesses and 60 experts gave testimony. Spain's federal prosecutor called for sentences amounting to 311,865 years in jail.