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Trial for 2004 Madrid Train Bombing Begins

A trial into Europe's worst terrorist attack, opened in Spain Thursday, with 29 suspects facing charges in train bombings that killed 191 Madrid rush-hour commuters, nearly three years ago. Sabina Castelfranco reports.

Twenty-nine people went on trial for the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and injured about 2,000 others. There was high security around the Madrid courtroom. Hundreds of police officers were deployed before dawn. As the trial opened, Spanish radio spoke of the "historic day we've all been waiting for". The case is believed to be the most important of its kind in Spanish history. Leading newspaper El Pais described it as "the trial of the biggest Islamist massacre in Europe".

For families whose lives were shattered by the terror attacks, it is finally time for justice. The attack - caused by 10 backpack bombs that exploded on four packed commuter trains - traumatized a nation, triggered the fall of the conservative government and brought the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.

Seven of the suspects - most of whom are Moroccan - face charges of murder and belonging to a terrorist group. They face possible jail terms of 30 years. The other 22 are accused of lesser crimes, such collaborating with a terrorist group, handling explosives and drug trafficking. The first to be questioned was 35-year-old Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, accused of inciting people to carry out the attack. He is one of four alleged masterminds. Ahmed - also known as "Mohamed the Egyptian" - was convicted of belonging to a terrorist group by an Italian court, last year, and has been extradited to Spain for the trial.

On the stand Thursday, he refused to give any evidence.

Only three of the presumed bombers will be on trial - Moroccans Jamal Zougam and Abdelmajid Bouchar and Syrian Basel Ghayloun.

Anti- terrorism police officials have said the case against the men includes witness testimony, fingerprints and other forensic evidence, as well as information culled from computer hard disks.

Defense lawyers say the evidence against the men is thin.

Eduardo Garcia, one of the defending lawyers, says the trial will have to deal with huge volume of material. He adds this will be no easy task and that the trial cannot be compared to any other that has been held in Spain.

The hearings are expected to last until July, when the three-judge panel will retire to consider the evidence. Sentences are not expected to be handed down before October.