Friday, February 16, 2007

The Trial....Day 2, February 16th

Day 2 of the trial began with the appearance of the second alleged "intellectual author" of the train bombings, Youssef Belhadj. The pattern of his appearance followed that set on the first day of the trial by Rabei Osman El Sayed Ahmed, Belhadj made it clear that he would not answer questions from anyone except his own defence lawyer. Just like Ahmed the day before he condemned the bombings and denied any association with those who carried them out.

In addition, he denied any links to Al-Qaeda and the Morrocan Islamic Combat Group (MICG), or that he was the person who appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the bombings using the assumed name of Abu Dujana el Afgani. When questioned on declarations made by his nephew, Mohamed Moussaten, which have implicated Belhadj in recruitment for radical Islamist activities, he attributed his nephew's testimony to police pressure. To the question on whether he was a radical islamist came the reply "I am a normal Muslim".

Youssef Belhadj

Belhadj claimed he had been in Spain 3 times, in the years 200, 2002 and 2004; the first time to visit a sick relative and on the other 2 occasions to try and get residence in Spain. The prosecution believes that he was in Madrid in October 2003 to fix the date for the attacks, and that he returned in February 2004.

Next to declare after Belhadj was Hassan El Haski, arrested in Lanzarote in 2004 and accused of being a leader of the MICG. Again only answering questions from his own defence lawyer, El Haski denied any connection to the bombings or to anyone involved in them. Questioned about whether he condemned the attacks he replied "I cannot accept that they attack innocent people...children. This is a crime, who would accept it?".

El Haski was questioned about possible links to ETA and his reply was scornful; "How am I going to have a relationship with ETA if I cannot even read or write in Spanish?". He then made an ironic reference to the boric acid that was found in his home in Lanzarote, and which a police report later used to try and establish a connection with a case of the same substance being found in an ETA safe house. Not only did El Haski deny membership of the MICG, he claimed that such a group does not even exist.

Towards the end of the day there was time to begin the questioning of the first of the alleged material authors, Jamal Zougam. With this declaration we got a surprise, because Zougam was the first defendant who agreed to accept questions from lawyers for the prosecution. It seems that his decision caught the prosecution a bit by surprise, they were not completely prepared for someone willing to reply to questions.

Zougam, who is being accused of being one of those who actually placed the bombs, stated that at the time of the attacks he was asleep at home; he got up at around 10 a.m. and then went to work in his shop. He claimed no knowledge of the sale of the cards used in the telephone timers for the bombs and said that it was an employee of his who had stated that Jamal Ahmidan, the alleged buyer of the cards, was in the shop.

Apparently relaxed, and even smiling occasionally, Zougam denied knowing any of the other defendants. He also said that he had never been in the house near Chinchón where the bombs were allegedly prepared, or the flat in Leganés where several members of the group responsible were surrounded and blew themselves up. Pressed on the fact that he has been identified by witnesses as having been on the trains, he claimed that this identification was only made after his picture had appeared in the media. The day ended without finishing his declaration.

My prediction from the first day about the AVT lawyers only asking questions touching the conspiracy theories when they know there will be no answer was borne out - on day 2 they asked questions about connections to ETA , but not to the only defendant prepared to answer them, Jamal Zougam. One of the questions they raised concerns a ridiculous invention of the conspiracy theorists claiming that a timer made by ETA was found in a suspect's house - I have written about this story here.


El Mundo - Youssef Belhadj
El Mundo - Hassan El Haski
El Mundo - Jamal Zougam
El País - Belhadj and El Haski
El País - Jamal Zougam

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