Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Bombers face 190 charges of murder

SWIFT ACTION Spanish intelligence officers have been working overtime to track down people linked to the Madrid train bombings, arresting five men on Thursday

REUTERS , MADRID

Three suspects held in connection with the Madrid train bombings were accused yesterday of 190 murders and of belonging to a "terrorist group", High Court sources said.

Another two suspects were accused of cooperating with a "terrorist group," the sources said. The term "accusation" under Spanish law means that there are believed to be indications they could be involved.

The five -- three Moroccans and two Indians who have been in custody since last Saturday -- have denied, however, any link to the radical Islamist al-Qaeda network, the sources added.

Spain's High Court was expected to rule yesterday that the first five suspects arrested in connection with the al-Qaeda-linked Madrid train bombings that killed 202 people must stay in custody.

After Judge Juan del Olmo took testimony from the three Moroccans and two Indians overnight, police took them away in the early hours, judicial sources said.

A week after the commuter train blasts, another five suspects were picked up on Thursday as part of the investigation into what is suspected to be the first strike in the West by al-Qaeda or militants linked to it since Sept. 11, 2001.

At 202, the Madrid death toll has matched that of the 2002 Bali attack, which was blamed on Islamist militants. More than 1,750 people were also wounded in Spain.

Investigators and judges are pursuing possible links between the Madrid attack and the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco that killed 45 people, court sources said.

Spain's El Pais daily, citing sources in the inquiry, said yesterday that police had found a shard of mobile phone casing in a shop run by one of the detainees -- Moroccan Jamal Zougam -- that fit a broken phone found attached to an unexploded bomb.

Zougam, who ran a store that sold mobile telephones in central Madrid, was one of those appearing in court.

In London, police were investigating a "definitive link" between the Madrid attack and al-Qaeda supporters based in Britain, top police officer John Stevens told The Independent newspaper, comments that were confirmed by his office.

The paper, citing an intelligence source, also said Zougam was thought to have visited London for help on the attack.

The suspects arrested on Thursday were a Spaniard and four Arabs, sources in the inquiry said. An Algerian is also being held but sources do not think he is central to the inquiry.

The Spaniard was arrested in a northern city, sources said. El Pais and El Mundo newspapers said he was of Moroccan descent.

The blasts, the worst such attack in Europe since the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing, had wide political repercussions and prompted a security shake-up across Europe and beyond.

EU interior and justice ministers were to hold emergency talks in Brussels yesterday to discuss new security measures.

Claims purportedly from al-Qaeda said the attack was in retaliation for the Spanish government's support for the US-led war on Iraq, which most Spaniards opposed.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists scored a surprise win in last Sunday's general election amid public accusations that the center-right government had tried to blame the Basque separatist group ETA to avoid any voter backlash over Iraq.

Zapatero instantly waded into controversy, vowing to stand by a pre-election pledge to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq unless the UN takes over by mid-year, rebuffing calls from US President George W. Bush to stay the course.

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