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Court Clears Alleged Ringleader, Convicts 21 in Madrid Bombings

The three-member National Court sentenced Zamal Zougam and Othman Gnaoui, both of Morocco, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras of Spain to 34,000 to 43,000 years for 191 counts of murder and more than 1,800 counts of attempted murder. Spanish law, however, says the maximum time they can spend in jail is 40 years. Spain has no death penalty or life imprisonment.

Four more top suspects were acquitted of murder but convicted of lesser charges, including belonging to terrorist organizations, and 14 others also were convicted of the lesser charges, reported the Associated Press.

Rabei Osman, the alleged mastermind who is in jail in Italy, was acquitted of all charges. Prosecutors said he bragged in a wiretapped phone conversation that the bombings were his idea, but defense attorneys argued that the tapes were mistranslated, the AP reported.

Six lesser suspects also were acquitted of all charges.

“We’re very surprised by the acquittal. If it wasn’t them, we have to find out who it was. Somebody gave the order,” said Jose Maria de Pablos, spokesman for the victims’ association, Reuters reported.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero welcomed the ruling. “Justice was rendered today,” he said. “The barbarism perpetrated on March 11, 2004, has left a deep imprint of pain on our collective memory, an imprint that stays with us as a homage to the victims.”

The day of carnage became known as 11-M, much as 9/11 is used to reference the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

The prosecution said the attack that destroyed four commuter trains in Madrid was organized by those loyal to al-Qaida to punish Spain for supporting the U.S.-led Iraq war.

Seven suspected ringleaders blew themselves up in a safe house outside Madrid three weeks after the bombings as special security forces who had tracked them via cell phone traffic moved in to arrest them.

The Madrid attacks had political ramifications and divided the country between supporters of the conservatives who were in power at the time of the massacre and Socialists who said the government put Spain at risk of strikes by al-Qaida because of its support for the Iraq war.

The government of then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar initially blamed Basque separatists even as evidence of Islamic involvement emerged.

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