Al Qaeda leader sentenced to 27 years
By Elisabeth O’Leary Mon Sep 26, 2005, 2:48 PM ET
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s High Court jailed an al Qaeda leader for 27 years on Monday for conspiring with the September 11 plotters but cleared him and two others of killing 2,973 people in the attacks on New York and Washington.
The court also sentenced Al Jazeera journalist Tayseer Alouni to seven years in prison for collaborating with a terrorist group, a decision that drew strong criticism from the Arab broadcaster and international media groups.
In all, 18 of the 24 defendants in Europe’s biggest trial of suspected Islamist militants were convicted — mostly of belonging to or cooperating with al Qaeda. Sentences ranged from six years to 27 years in jail.
Despite the convictions, the High Court threw out the most serious charges in what was the latest in a series of high-profile terrorism trials around Europe in which prosecutors have had only limited success.
The High Court sentenced Syrian-born Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, leader of an al Qaeda cell in Spain, to 12 years in jail for leading a terrorist group and 15 years for "conspiracy to commit terrorist murder" in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The court ruled that prosecutors had not proved that Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah, took part in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center but there was evidence he had helped think up the plot, working with a radical cell in Hamburg.
It said Yarkas, 41, was aware of the "sinister plans" for the attacks and was kept informed of preparations for them.
Yarkas and two other defendants, Moroccan-born Driss Chebli and Syrian-born Ghasoub al Abrash Ghalyoun, could have faced jail sentences of more than 74,000 years each if convicted of playing a role in the September 11 attacks.
A three-judge panel heard from more than 100 witnesses during a two-and-a-half month trial.
Six defendants were acquitted on all counts, including Ghalyoun who was accused of giving a video of New York landmarks to al Qaeda to help them carry out the September 11 attacks. The video, played at the trial, contained standard holiday filming.
The Arab satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera denounced the sentencing of Alouni, who interviewed al Qaeda leader
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"This is a black day for the Spanish judiciary which has deviated from all the norms of international justice," Al Jazeera news editor Ahmed al-Sheikh told the station.
A European media watchdog said the decision to jail him would set alarm bells ringing among investigative journalists.
"Journalists have always investigated terrorist groups and their activities. It’s part of our job," Jean-Francois Julliard, news editor of the Paris-based watchdog Reporters without Borders.
All the defendants had pleaded not guilty and representatives of several said they would appeal.
Chebli was jailed for six years for co-operating with an armed group, but acquitted of murder. Two other defendants, Ousama Darra and Jasem Mahboule, were jailed for 11 years each for being leaders of al Qaeda.
The wife of Abdalrahman Alarnot, jailed for eight-and-a-half years for belonging to a terrorist organization, said her husband had nothing to do with terrorism.
"How do you explain such an injustice to the children?" the wife, who declined to give her name, told reporters.
Yarkas and Chebli were accused of helping prepare a meeting in Spain in July 2001 at which prosecutors said the September 11 attacks may have been planned. Hijacker Mohamed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, suspected coordinator of the U.S. attacks, were alleged to have attended.
The evidence against Yarkas included a wire-tapped phone conversation he had on August 27, 2001 with Farid Hilali, another September 11 suspect held in Britain.
The trial pre-dates the al Qaeda-linked Madrid train bombings in March 2004 that killed 191 people. Another judge has charged more than 100 people of a role in those attacks.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Gideon Long, Inmaculada Sanz)