Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Update: Here are the English-language reports on the verdict in the Madrid bombings trial from the Telegraph, Fox News, the Guardian, CNN, the New York Times, and the Times of London.

Interesting bits:

Fox News: Much of the evidence against the men was circumstantial. Bouchar, for instance, had been seen on one of the bombed trains shortly before the attack, but at trial no one could positively identify him and there were no fingerprints or other forensic evidence placing him at the scene.

A senior court official privy to the decision-making told The Associated Press following the verdict that the case against Osman was "flimsy," and that there was "no hard evidence" that Belhadj or Haski were masterminds. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Circumstantial evidence is admissible in Spanish court, but the judges may have avoided relying heavily upon it because of a number of high-profile terror cases that were overturned on appeal, including one involving a Spanish cell accused of involvement in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, said Fernando Reinares, until recently the chief counterterrorism adviser at the Interior Ministry.

He said the judges in the case used a narrow approach to the law and warned that Spanish courts would have to change their rules of evidence if the country was to defeat Islamic terrorism.

"Islamic terrorism ... leaves a different kind of footprint," said Reinares, now head of the terrorism studies program at the Elcano Royal Institute, a Madrid think-tank.

The Guardian: Rogelio Alonso, a lecturer in politics and terrorism at King Juan Carlos University, said he believed the trial had shown that "it is possible to fight this type of [Islamist] terrorism through the courts". He also said the investigation had uncovered a link between the Madrid suspects and the wider world of al-Qaida.

However, Scott Atran, a US academic who has investigated the Hamburg cell connected to the September 11 2001 attacks in the US as well as those behind the Bali bomb attacks of 2002, and who witnessed the trial, said: "There isn't the slightest bit of evidence of any relationship with al-Qaida. We've been looking at it closely for years and we've been briefed by everybody under the sun ... and nothing connects them."

CNN (note the teaser at the end attempting to play on morbid voyeurism): Of the 28 men on trial, eight had been considered prime defendants, alleged to be either the bombers, ideologues, or "necessary cooperators" in the fatal plot. Each of the eight faced 191 charges of mass murder and more than 1,800 charges of attempted murder.

But there were gasps in the courtroom as the judges convicted only three of the eight prime defendants of the gravest charge -- mass murder. The judges convicted four others on lesser charges and acquitted one prime defendant of all charges.

The number of acquittals is likely to disappoint survivors of the attacks and relatives of the victims, who said the trial had dredged up bad memories of the bombings that they could not now put to rest. As they left court, some victims and families said they felt deprived of justice. Watch how victims of the bombings are coping.

The New York Times: The verdicts closed a sprawling trial that over the course of five months brought 29 defendants, 40 lawyers and 350 witnesses to a temporary courtroom on the outskirts of Madrid. The verdicts offer the first taste of justice to those wounded in the attacks as well as to relatives of those killed on March 11, 2004, when 13 sports bags stuffed with explosives tore through trains carrying hundreds of people from mainly working-class suburbs to the city center. The bombings changed the course of politics in Spain, which was used to decades of Basque but not Islamic terrorism.

They were carried out by a group of Islamist radicals that intersected with a band of Moroccan petty criminals whose ringleader, Jamal Ahmidan, had become radicalized in a Moroccan jail. Seven of the main suspects, including Mr. Ahmidan, killed themselves in a Madrid apartment to avoid arrest three weeks after the attacks, and another four are believed to have fled.

The verdicts underscore the difficulty of building a solid legal case against defendants suspected of playing an inspirational role in a diffuse and nonhierarchical network, rather than having direct involvement in the violence.

The Times: Thomas Catan, Times correspondent in Madrid, said that many survivors of the attacks appeared surprised and upset today by the number of acquittals and by some of the sentences imposed, which were shorter than prosecutors had demanded.

But Jose Luis Zapatero, the Socialist Prime Minister who came to power after the Madrid bombings, insisted that justice had been served.

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