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Court convicts 21 of Madrid bombings

A Spanish court Wednesday convicted 21 people of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but acquitted an Egyptian accused of helping mastermind the Al Qaeda-inspired attack that claimed nearly 200 lives.

The early morning bombings on four packed commuter trains on March 11, 2004 were the deadliest terror attacks in the West since the September 11, 2001 strikes against the United States.

The chief judge of the special anti-terrorist court, Javier Gomez Bermudez, handed out the heaviest sentences to two Moroccans — Jamal Zougam and Othman el-Gnaoui — and a Spaniard, Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras.

They each received around 40,000 years in prison, although under Spanish law the maximum they can spend behind bars is 40 years.

Zougam placed explosives aboard one of the four targeted trains, while Trashorras and el-Gnaoui were condemned respectively for supplying and transporting the explosives. One of the alleged organisers of the attacks, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, also known as “Mohammed the Egyptian”, was acquitted on all charges.

He burst into tears and then kneeled to pray when the decision was announced, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported from Milan, where he is serving an eight-year prison sentence for belonging to a terrorist group.

“Acquitted, did you see?” the Egyptian said as police officers led him back to his jail cell.

A total of 28 defendants were on trial — 19 mostly North Africans Arabs living in Spain and nine Spaniards charged with providing the explosives used in the bombings.

Ahmed was one of seven acquitted. The remaining 18 received sentences of between three and 18 years for crimes ranging from the use of explosives to membership in a terrorist group.

The judge sentenced the defendants to a total of 120,075 years in prison, far less than the 311,865 years sought by the prosecution.

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