Spanish court jails 18 in al-Qaida trial
Monday 26 September 2005, 16:31 Makka Time, 13:31 GMT
The Spanish High Court has jailed the Syrian head of a Spanish-based al-Qaida cell for helping to organise the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US along with an Aljazeera correspondent and 16 others.
The verdicts handed down on 24 men accused of links to Osama bin Laden’s network brought the curtain down on Europe’s biggest al-Qaida trial to date.
The court sentenced Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, to 27 years in jail for conspiring in the organisation of the September 11 attacks.
It also found Aljazeera television reporter Tayssir Alluni guilty of collaboration with al-Qaida, sentencing the Syrian-born but naturalised Spaniard to seven years in jail.
Yarkas, regarded as the head of a Spanish-based al-Qaida cell under investigation since 1995, had faced a record jail term of 74,377 years for “active complicity” in the US attacks – 25 years for each of the 2,973 victims – although under Spanish law he would have served a maximum 30.
Aljazeera reporter jailed
Alluni, who interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan weeks after the September 11 attacks in the United States said he was only doing his job as a journalist, but the prosecution alleged he was in league with al-Qaida and its leader and accused of acting as a financial courier to the group while in Afghanistan.
In a verdict stretching to 445 pages, the court imposed sentences of between six and 11 years on another 16 suspects and allowed the remaining six to go free.
Those found not guilty included Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, who along with Dahdah and Moroccan Driss Chebli stood accused of helping to prepare the attacks on New York and Washington.
Chebli was given a six-year sentence for conspiring to help al-Qaida.
All the accused denied the charges.
The prosecution accused Abu Dahdah and Chebli of organising a July 2001 meeting in northeastern Spain attended by Mohamed Atta, accused ringleader of the September 11 hijackers.
Ghalyoun was quizzed about why he had videotaped the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, among many other sites in the US in 1997.
He said he was simply taking pictures as a tourist. Spanish espionage chief Rafael Gomez Menor admitted during the 10-week trial that no proof had emerged of Ghalyoun’s footage being handed over to al-Qaida operatives.
Prosecutor Pedro Rubira said the July 2001 meeting in Tarragona “probably determined the date of the attacks on the United States” and called for an “exemplary sentence”.
Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah
Rubira said the accused belonged to a Spanish al-Qaida cell which helped to recruit extremists to fight in Bosnia, Indonesia and Afghanistan starting in 1995.
Abu Dahdah, in testimony in July, called the trial a farce. Of bin Laden, he said, “I know absolutely nothing of this man. I condemn what happened [on September 11].”
He also said that accusations that he headed a “soldiers of Allah” group of Islamist extremists were “a myth – totally false”, and insisted Islam “clearly says that killing children, women, elderly people is wrong, as is bringing down buildings.”
The verdicts in the mammoth trial came after investigators pored over 130 hours and 39 minutes of real time evidence collated on 18 DVDs.
The trial opened on April 22 and heard testimony from 107 witnesses, including Jamel Zougam, a Moroccan alleged acquaintance of Abu Dahdah who is a prime suspect in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings.
With investigations continuing, that trial is not scheduled to go ahead until next year.