Spain has opened a trial against 24 alleged members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, including three suspects in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States. The trial got under way in Spain as the only 9-11 suspect to be charged in the United States is expected to plead guilty in a U.S. court.

The 24 suspects appeared in a bulletproof chamber, specially built in the Madrid courtroom, as security forces, police dogs and helicopters patrolled the neighborhood.

The trial is the result of nearly a decade-long investigation by Spanish authorities into whether Muslim militants have been establishing terrorist cells or recruiting members on Spanish soil.

A key suspect is a Syrian man, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the accused leader of al-Qaida in Spain. He and two other men are charged with helping the plotters and hijackers in the September 11 attack.

The 21 other suspects have not been linked to the attacks, but face charges of giving support to terrorist groups.

Among the defendants is a correspondent for the al-Jazeera television news service, Tayssir Allouni, who interviewed Osama bin Laden shortly after the September 11 attacks.

Speaking outside the courthouse, his wife, Fatima Hamed, says her husband is innocent.

She says he is accused of transferring $4,000 to al-Qaida, but says they have already explained to authorities the source and direction of this money. She says it is a political trial against her husband for his role as a journalist in exposing alleged U.S. acts against civilians in Afghanistan and for meeting Osama bin Laden.

Zacarias Moussaoui (DOJ file foto)
Meantime, alleged September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is to appear in a U.S. court in Virginia Friday, and is expected to enter a guilty plea on terrorism charges. Mr. Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges before the attacks, but prosecutors say he planned to take part in the hijacking or carry out another terrorist attack in the United States.

In London, a judge issued a 13-year prison term against a man who pleaded guilty to conspiring with Richard Reid to detonate an explosive on a passenger airliner in December 2001.

Sajid Badat told British police that he abandoned the plot before Reid boarded a flight from Paris to Miami and tried to trigger a bomb hidden in his shoe. Passengers overpowered Reid on the flight, and a U.S. court later sentenced him to life in prison.