Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Spain's 9/11 trial called 'a failure'

The day after a Spanish court handed down verdicts in Europe's first major trial of suspected Al Qaeda members, including three allegedly linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America, almost no one in Spain was happy with the verdicts. The Associated Press reports that Spanish media have labeled the trial "a failure and a blow to police and prosecution."
"They (the accused) recruited fanatics but their role in September 11 was pure fantasy," the daily El Mundo headlined its editorial. "The first major trial against Islamic terrorism in our country has finished with a certain sense of failure in not being able to prove a direct link between the accused and the September 11 attacks," the daily La Razon wrote., a Basque news website, reports that defense lawyers and representatives from the Arab Commission for Human Rights "described the case as a sham because of the lack of evidence."

Of the 24 men on trial, five were acquited, and 16 were found guilty of belonging to or collaborating with Al Qaeda. Three other men were accused of direct involvement with the 9/11 attacks, but only one, Syrian businessman Imad Eddin Barakhat Yarkas, was convicted. He received 27 years. The prosecution had asked for more than 74,000 years. Driss Chebli received a prison term of six years for membership in a terrorist organization, and another, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, was acquitted of all charges.

The Times of London reports that Mr. Yarkas helped put together a meeting in northern Spain in July of 2001 where the 9/11 attacks may have been planned. The court ruled that "prosecutors had not proved that Yarkas took part in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, but there was evidence he had helped to think up the plot, working with a radical cell in Hamburg." The New York Times [registration required] reports that the chief prosecutor told the Spanish court that a strong decision would show that the legal system, not military action, was the best way to deal with terrorism.

In late June, the chief prosecutor, Pedro Rubira, argued before the court that a guilty verdict would send an important message to the world that fighting Islamic terrorism "does not require wars or detention camps," an apparent reference to the American-led war in Iraq and the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Many Spanish investigators and politicians maintain that extending the reach of international law and sharing evidence across borders are the most effective forms of fighting terrorism.

But as The Times of London noted, the Spanish media feel that the prosecution failed to prove any substantial link to 9/11.

[El Mundo] said one problem was that the court’s argument regarding Yarkas’ role in September 11 rested on 'two weak pieces of circumstantial evidence.' One was that his number was found in the phonebook of a person who had lived with Mohammed Atta, the plot leader. The other was a tapped phone conversation that Yarkas allegedly had in which another person talks of entering 'the aviation business.'

To consider this a reference to September 11 was 'a flight of fantasy for anyone with common sense, and raises immense doubts about the seriousness of the verdict,' El Mundo said.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that not everyone was disappointed with the verdict.
"It's good news," says Rogelio Alonso, professor of political science at Madrid's King Juan Carlos University. "It shows that we can put people on trial successfully, which means that the police have been effective in tracking them down, and in finding enough evidence to convict them."

Calling the verdict "a significant breakthrough," Professor [Paul] Wilkinson adds, "It demonstrates that criminal justice systems can deal with these matters. It's an exoneration of the system."

But the Monitor also noted that other Spanish experts say the limited sentence for Yarkas was a "setback" and shows that "the prosecution of accessory to murder charges in the 9/11 attacks remains difficult."

The Associated Press reported that one of the people convicted was Taysir Alony, an Al Jazeera journalist, who received six years for "collaboration."

"It was a black day in the history of Spanish justice," said Ahmed al-Sheik, Al-Jazeera news editor, adding that the verdict would be appealed. Mr. Alouni, a Syrian with Spanish citizenship, had interviewed Osama bin Laden shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. He had pleaded not guilty and denied ever belonging to Al Qaeda.
The Times of London reports that Alouni's wife, Fatima Zahra, told Spanish media after the verdicts: "My husband has been sent down for telling the truth... for doing his job. And he would do the same again."

Reuters reports that Al Jazeera actually never showed the interview with bin Laden that led to Alouni's conviction – it was the US network CNN that subsequently screened it.

The Peninsula of Qatar reports that the leading media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, said the conviction of Alouni would "set off alarm bells" for journalists. Jean-François Julliard of RWB said: “It sets a dangerous precedent, particularly for anyone who seeks to interview Bin Laden in the future.”


Blogger Diogo said...

About the 7/7 London bombing

Former Scotland Yard Official Peter Power:

“At half past nine this morning we were actually running an exercise for a company of over a thousand people in London based on simultaneous bombs going off precisely at the railway stations where it happened this morning, so I still have the hairs on the back of my neck standing up right now”.

Mr. Power repeats these statements on ITN television. The two-minute video clip is available here.

4:30 PM  

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