Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Spain to seek jail terms of 74,000 years in terror case

AP , MADRID, SPAIN

A Spanish prosecutor said he will seek jail terms of more than 74,000 years for each of three suspected al-Qaeda members charged with using Spain as a staging ground for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

A trial is expected to start in mid-March but no date has been set, the National Court said. Spain will be only the second country worldwide to put Sept. 11 suspects on trial, after Germany.

The three are the alleged leader of a Spain-based al-Qaeda cell, Imad Yarkas, and two alleged accomplices, Driss Chebli and Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun. Chebli is Moroccan while the other two are of Syrian origin.

Prosecutor Pedro Rubira said that for each suspect he will seek prison terms of 25 years multiplied by the number of people killed in the suicide airliner attacks. Rubira said the death toll in Sept. 11 was 2,973, so each suspect faces a possible sentence of more than 74,000 years.

However, under Spanish law the maximum amount of time a person can spend in jail for a terrorism conviction is 40 years. Spain has no death penalty or life imprisonment.

Rubira also said he wants the defendants to pay a total of 893 million euros (US$1.16 billion) in damages to the victims' families.

The three are among 24 people who are to stand trial in Spain as part of the same indictment. The other 21 are charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, weapons possession, fraud or other offenses -- not with actually helping plan the Sept. 11 massacre.

The other defendants include al-Jazeera journalist Tayssir Alouny, for whom the prosecutor is seeking nine years in prison, and Yusuf Galan, a Spanish convert to Islam who faces a sentence of 18 years.

In a 200-page writ, Rubira said he wants to present evidence that includes more than 100 wiretapped conversations among suspected cell members. He also wants to call Jamal Zougam -- a jailed Moroccan suspect in the March 11 train bombings of last year -- to testify. Zougam, accused of actually placing some of the 10 backpack bombs that killed 191 people in Madrid, was a close follower of Yarkas, according to court records.

The case stems from an indictment issued in September 2003 by Spain's leading anti-terrorism judge, Baltasar Garzon, against 35 people, later broadened to 40.

Garzon charged that Yarkas, a used-car salesman, provided financing and logistics for key Sept. 11 plotters. In the indictment, Garzon wrote that "it has become crystal clear" that Yarkas "had links to some of the perpetrators of the massacre."

Investigators on both sides of the Atlantic say that Spain -- along with Germany -- was a key staging ground for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In July 2001, Mohamed Atta -- believed to have piloted one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center -- attended a meeting in the northeastern Tarragona region of Spain that Garzon said was used to plan last-minute details such as the exact date of the attack.

The 24 who will stand trial are in Spanish custody. The rest of those indicted by Garzon are either fugitives, such as Osama bin Laden, or in custody in other countries.

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