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Madrid: Families angry at terror verdicts

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MADRID, Spain (AP) — They’d been longing for justice for more than three years
and instead got what they call a gut punch of acquittals and convictions on lesser
charges.

People who lost parents, children or spouses in the 2004 Madrid train bombings
plan to appeal the verdicts and sentences handed down Wednesday by Spain’s National
Court.

“It was like a slap in our face,” Jesus Abril, who lost his 19-year-old
son Oscar, said of the verdicts.

Three Muslims were charged with masterminding the bombings of four crowded
commuter trains at rush hour, which killed 191 people and wounded more than
1,800. None was convicted of the main charge of mass murder, and one was acquitted
altogether.

Two of those alleged ringleaders and two others also facing murder charges
were convicted of the lesser charge of belonging to a terrorist organization.
Rather than sentences of nearly 38,000 years as sought by prosecutors, some
got terms of 12 years. And of nine Spaniards charged with supplying stolen dynamite
for the attack in exchange for drugs and cash, five walked free. Altogether,
of 28 people tried, seven were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Abril, a 54-year-old former teacher, attended each of the 58 trial sessions,
and was in court to hear the verdicts. He and others whose loved ones died in
the maelstrom of explosions and burning metal on March 11, 2004, said they could
not believe the decisions read by Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez.

“Some of us were crying, hysterical, angry. Others were speechless,”
Abril said Thursday. “The general response was to think how easy, how cheap
it is to kill in Spain.”

Abril represents the March 11 Association of Terrorism Victims. Its president,
Pilar Manjon, whose 20-year-old son was killed in the bombings, the verdicts
and sentences weak.

“I don’t like it that murderers are going free,” she said Wednesday.

The verdicts returned by the three-judge panel said the Muslim suspects who
stood trial, along with seven purported ringleaders who blew themselves up to
avoid arrest, wanted to wage holy war.

It described the plotters as “members of terrorist groups or cells which
… through the use of violence in all of its manifestations, seek to topple
democratic regimes and eliminate the Christian-Western culture, replacing it
with an Islamic state under the rule of the sharia, or Islamic law, in its most
radical, extreme and minority interpretation.”

Under Spanish law, Manjon’s association was able to take part in the judicial
probe and trial in a sort of friend-of-the-court capacity. It plans to appeal
at least some of the verdicts to the Supreme Court.

The association will study the 700-page ruling with lawyers and decide what
specific decisions to appeal, Abril said.

“Some of the suspects, who we thought would get the maximum punishment,
received sentences that are just short of laughable,” he said.

He added, however, that the survivors feel lucky to have even seen the case
go to trial and end in some convictions. “Other victims of terrorist attacks
and in other countries don’t have this,” Abril said.
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Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba defended the verdict, but said he
understands if victims feel shortchanged and want to appeal.

“The courts have made an effort to do their job, which is to offer victims
some kind of reparation, because unfortunately at this time there is little
else we can offer,” he said.

Source URL: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/11/01/madrid.trial.ap/index.html?iref=newssearch