Spain Convicts Qaeda Suspects

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Spain's Audiencia Nacional sentenced the Syrian businessman Edin Barrakat, alias Abu Dahdah, alleged leader of Al Qaeda in Spain, to 27 years in jail for his role in the 9/11 attacks. His sentence is considerably less than the 74,337 years demanded by the prosecution, after Abu Dahdah was found guilty of conspiracy in an act of terrorism over 9/11, but not guilty of the murder of 2,973 victims of that day's attacks. The court sentenced 17 of Barrakat's fellow accused to between six and 11 years in jail, and acquitted the remaining six.

One of those acquitted was Gasoub al Abrash Ghalyoun, for whom the prosecution HAD also demanded 74,000 years. The court found that there was insufficient proof that his video films of the WTC and other prominent U.S. buildings were acts of surveillance in a terrorist plot. Taysir Alony, the al-Jazeera journalist who interviewed Osama Bin Laden shortly after 9/11, was found guilty of membership of a terrorist organization and sentenced to seven years instead of the nine demanded by the prosecutor.

The trial was held in a specially fitted court house in an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Madrid, because none of the regular court rooms was large enough to accommodate the trial. The hearing lasted almost three months, and the three judges have been considering their verdict since July 6. Although he was not mentioned by name, high-profile investigating magistrate Judge Baltasar Garzón was criticized by the president of the court for the use of irregular telephone tapping in preparing the case.

Sonsoles Cifuentes, professor of humanities at the University of San Pablo CEU in Madrid, said this was not the first time Garzón has been criticized by the courts for failing to provide sufficient evidence for conviction in his cases. "Several cases prepared by Garzón have ended without convictions," she noted, "which makes one wonder whether there are failures in his preparation. Often one can have moral conviction that someone is guilty, but unless it can be proved there is no case." That has prompted speculation that Judge Garzón, who is currently on sabbatical in New York, may be gradually moved out of the spotlight he has enjoyed in a number of high-profile human-rights and terrorism cases.