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Men on trial in Madrid bombings deny role

Three Moroccans accused of helping plan the 2004 Madrid train bombings denied involvement in the attack and condemned violence of any kind in testimony on Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three Moroccans accused of helping plan the 2004 Madrid train bombings denied involvement in the attack and condemned violence of any kind in testimony on Friday.

Among those taking the stand was the man prosecutors say appears in a video claiming responsibility for the explosions, another with alleged ties to a North African terror group and a third who witnesses say placed some of the backpack bombs on packed commuter trains.

The men denied any knowledge of the attack and said they were not connected to the other alleged ringleaders. They said police had intimidated relatives into incriminating them, and said authorities were relying on witnesses who recognized them from television footage, rather than the scene of the March 11, 2004, bombings.

"I don't know anyone and nobody knows me," said Hasan el Haski, 45, who prosecutors say was the leader in Spain of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, a militant organization with links to several of the alleged attackers. "That group doesn't exist, it doesn't have a headquarters."

Twenty-nine suspects are on trial for their alleged roles in the rush-hour attacks, which killed 191 people and left more than 1,800 injured, many paralyzed or having lost limbs.

Relatives, psychologists at trial
Scores of survivors and relatives of victims were attending the trial, and a team of psychologists and doctors was on hand for them. A verdict is likely in October.

The court also heard from Youssef Belhadj, who prosecutors say was the hooded and menacing figure in a video found near a Madrid mosque two days after the bombings. The speaker in that video claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of al-Qaida, and says it was revenge for the involvement of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Belhadj said Friday he was not the man in the tape, and denied any link to international terrorism.

"I condemn these attacks and all of the attacks that have taken place around the world," he said. "I am against any sort of violence."

He said two of his relatives on trial on lesser charges had accused him of being a member of al-Qaida out of fear, after Spanish police had detained the entire family for questioning.

"They were insulted and threatened that they would be taken back to Morocco," Belhadj said under questioning from his defense attorney Friday. "So if I were in their shoes ... I would have said things like that."

Authorities say a two-year investigation revealed no evidence of a link between the March 11 bombers and Osama bin Laden's group. They say the North African immigrants were inspired by bin Laden's call for global jihad, but that neither bin Laden nor his inner circle knew of the plans ahead of time or gave any logistical or financial support to the Madrid cell.

Defendant laughs at charge
The court also heard Friday from Jamal Zougam, who ran a shop that sold most of the mobile phone cards in the phones that were used to set off the bombs, and who witnesses say planted at least one of the bombs himself.

Zougam laughed as a prosecutor leveled some of the accusations, drawing a rebuke from the judge. He refused to answer many questions, including one by a lawyer for victims who asked how he could explain the fact that the phone cards were purchased in his shop.

The 33-year-old said he was asleep during the early morning blasts, and that any witnesses who think they saw him placing a bomb on one of the trains were confused because his face was shown on television.

"I was sleeping. If I'm sleeping at my family's house I am not able to go anywhere," said Zougam. "When you are detained and you are exposed in the media, if people see you (on TV) they recognize you."

He also denied involvement in the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

All three men face sentences of up to 38,656 years — 30 years for each of the 191 killings and 18 years apiece for 1,820 attempted murders — though under Spanish law the maximum time anyone can spend imprisoned is 40 years.