Suspected Ringleader Of Madrid Attacks Takes Stand

Friday, February 16th 2007, 6:47 am
By: News On 6

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A Moroccan suspected of being the hooded man who claimed responsibility for the 2004 Madrid terror bombings on behalf of a group of Muslim militants refused to answer questions from a prosecutor Friday, as the trial went into its second day.

Prosecutors claim Youssef Belhadj is the man seen in a video found near a Madrid mosque two days after the train bombings. The man in the video says the attacks _ which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800 _ were revenge for the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Belhadj, 30, told the three-judge panel that he would only answer questions from his defense lawyer, as is his right under Spanish law. Egyptian suspect Rabei Osman, also accused of being a mastermind of the attacks, refused Thursday to answer prosecutors' questions, but under questioning from his defense attorney denied involvement and condemned the attacks.

Dressed in jeans and a black jacket, Belhadj sat back in his chair while state prosecutor Olga Sanchez asked him if he came to Madrid in February 2004 to give the bombers last-minute instructions about the attack, as Spanish investigators allege.

She asked if he had chosen the date of the attack, whether he was involved in jihad, or holy war, and whether he had ever gone to training camps in Afghanistan or received training about detonating explosives with remote controls.

In the video claiming responsibility, the hooded person claims to be speaking for al-Qaida in Europe. Spanish investigators have concluded the Madrid attack was inspired by al-Qaida, but that the bombing cell had no direct links to Osama bin Laden's group and received no financing or logistical support from al-Qaida.

Prosecutors are asking for a prison sentence of 38,656 years for Belhadj, though under Spanish law he can serve no more than 40 years behind bars.

In Turkey on Friday, suspected al-Qaida militants delivered final arguments to a court in Istanbul that has been trying the 2003 Istanbul bombings that killed 58 people.

Syrian Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who allegedly directed the attacks, called on ``holy warriors'' to keep fighting.

``Victory is very near!'' he said in Turkish, then chanted in Arabic.

Prosecutors said Osama bin Laden had personally ordered the bombings of two synagogues, the British consulate and a London-based bank on Nov. 15 and Nov. 20, 2003.

Police say some suspected ringleaders fled the country after the attacks, and some reportedly died in Iraq while fighting U.S. forces.

Al-Saqa was sentenced in absentia by Jordan in 2002, along with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. air raid, for a failed plot to attack Americans and Israelis in Jordan with poison gas during millennium celebrations.

Last month, a Turkish prosecutor questioned al-Saqa in the presence of British police over the decapitation of British engineer in Iraq, British diplomats said. Al-Saqa allegedly presided over an informal court that sentenced Bigley to death in Iraq, his former lawyer, Osman Karahan, said in April.

The Syrian has said he led militants to fight Americans in Iraq, but never planned any attacks in Turkey.