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Spanish Court Convicts 21 for Madrid Train Bombings


A Spanish court found 21 people guilty and acquitted seven others of involvement in 2004 train bombings in Madrid, closing a trial on the most deadly Islamist terrorist attack to date in Europe. Lisa Bryant has more on the sentencing from Paris.

Three of the lead defendants were each sentenced to tens of thousands of years in prison for their involvement in the early morning Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800 others. But under Spanish law they can only spend a maximum of 40 years behind bars.

Fourteen others were convicted of lesser charges and seven of the defendants were acquitted - including the alleged mastermind of the terrorist plot, 35-year-old Egyptian Rabei Osman. Also known as Mohammed the Egyptian, Osman is currently serving time behind bars in Italy on separate terrorism charges.

University of Barcelona political scientist Pere Vilanova described the verdict as a success for the rule of law in Spain.

"It seems to me evidence that the judiciary has been doing excellent work with the police," he said. "The jury has been legally oriented and I think this shows the rule of law works and that you can fight terrorism on legal grounds and you get the end results. Those who who are acquitted [benefited] from the basis of due process - that there was no evidence, or insufficient evidence."

The verdict brings to a close one of the most tumultuous chapters in recent Spanish history - the bombings changed the course of the country's legislative elections. The then-ruling conservative Popular Party initially suggested the Basque ETA separatist movement was likely behind the attacks, even as evidence mounted that Islamist terrorists were the probable culprits.

Three days later, the Popular Party was toppled from power by a public that felt it had been deceived - and was also angry over Madrid's support for the war in Iraq.

But today, Vilanova says Spaniards - who are already veterans of living with the threat of Basque terrorism - have put the Islamist attacks behind them.

"All in all it can happen again, but we do not live with that paranoia at all," he said. "We will not allow them to not only not set up our agenda but to modify our institutions and democratic rules.

Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hailed the verdict. He called for the country's political parties and ordinary Spaniards to work together to fight terrorism.

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