Friday, March 30, 2007

The Trial....Day 21, March 28th

A dramatic day 21 in the trial, and one that has much relevance for the part of this blog that deals with conspiracy theories about the train bombings. The drama came towards the end of the day, first came the testimony of another police inspector who was amongst those involved in the investigation of the bombings. This officer, an inspector of the Central Unit for External Information (UCIE in Spanish) named Jesús Parrilla, was identified by police number 23599.

The witness stated that he did not believe the statements made after the bombings by Emilio Suárez Trashorras about contacts between Jamal Ahmidam (El Chino) and the ETA members detained in Cuenca province in late February 2004. Parrilla was part of the team that interviewed Trashorras in Avilés a few days after the train bombings, and said that during the conversations prior to the detention of Trashorras the accused never mentioned the subject of explosives or ETA. Parrilla also affirmed that he is unaware of any contacts between Islamist terrorists and members of ETA.

The witness declared that on arrival in Asturias, the team of investigators first went to meet the management of the mining company Caolines de Merillés, owners of the Conchita mine where the explosives used in the bombs are said to have been stolen together with detonators. He said that the company presented itself as being a model one in terms of security, and that the directors denied any possibility of explosives being removed from their mines. Parrilla said they also provided a list of former employees of the mine, and that this list included the name of Trashorras.

The witness said that whilst they were in Asturias, evidence from the investigation of the telephone cards began to emerge, but this was not the original reason for their journey to the region. Parrilla declared that the investigating team was presented to Trashorras by his police contact from Avilés, Manolón, who testified earlier this week. He said that Manolón told them about Trashorras suspecting the involvement of some North Africans that he had been in contact with for hashish deals. Parrilla said that during their conversations with Trashorras on the 17th March 2004 his then wife, Carmen Toro, also entered the room where they were talking. The witness said that Toro sat on her husband's knee and said to him "Darling, say what you have to say, but leave me out of it" . He said that after this Trashorras began to understand that he could be in a difficult position, and that his attitude changed.

The witness said that Trashorras told the police of an occasion when he had taken El Chino and others to the mine. He also mentioned Rafá Zouhier and described him as a point of contact with the North Africans. Parrilla said Trahorras also mentioned the injuries that Zouhier is said to have caused to himself when experimenting with a detonator. Parrilla declared that he prepared a report on the 19th March 2004 containing details of the interviews in Avilés, but that a few days later those preparing the accusation said they did not have this document, so Parrilla said he gave a verbal summary of its contents and later prepared another version.

Following the evidence of Parrilla came the appearance of a witness who worked in the Carrefour supermarket in Avilés, where it is alleged the rucksacks were purchased that were used to remove the stolen dynamite from the mine. She testified that a group of "arabs" bought rucksacks and torches in the store. Later she identified Jamal Ahmidam and Abdennabi Kounjaa from photographs.

In the afternoon session came the appearance of the director general of the police at the time of the bombings, Agustín Díaz de Mera. This witness was questioned by the prosecution on the sequence of events between the 11th and the 13th March 2004. He said that he was in Barajas airport in Madrid when he was informed of the attack. He immediately went to Atocha station and spoke to the Minister of the Interior, Angel Acebes. That morning there was a meeting at the ministry attended by the senior officers of the national police and a senior representative of the Guardia Civil. He said that this meeting discussed the likelihood of ETA being responsible for the bombings, including the absence of a warning; something that was commonly given in ETA attacks. During this same meeting the witness said that another senior officer, Pedro Díaz Pintado, received a telephone call telling him that the bombs had contained Titadine dynamite. However, this information was subsequently corrected at around 18:00 p.m. on that day and that from that point they were sure that dynamite had been used, but without being able to say which particular kind. It was him who was responsible for informing the minister of these developments.

The witness declared concerning the discovery of the Kangoo van in Alcalá de Henares containing detonators, and a small amount of Goma 2 Eco dynamite. He said that the direction of the investigation was always in the hands of those leading it. He was informed about the discovery of the unexploded bomb in Vallecas police station in the early hours of the the 12th March, and that a few hours later he received the confirmation that the bomb contained Goma 2 Eco. Díaz de Mera also described a conversation with another senior officer on the 13th March concerning some imminent arrests, and a meeting on the same day concerning the discovery in a waste paper bin of a video tape claiming responsibility for the bombings. He said that he opposed a proposal in the meeting that Acebes should appear on television reading this claim of responsibility. This witness denied that the government and police were not alert to the threat of Islamist terrorism before the bombings. He said that he was never informed about the existence of a document detailing threats from Al Qaeda against Spain.

Following the questioning of this witness by lawyers from the prosecution we come to the most dramatic moment of the day. The witness was questioned by a lawyer from one of the victims associations that are sympathetic to the conspiracy theories. The questions concerned an interview that Díaz de Mera had given on a radio station where he claimed that a report existed linking ETA to the Madrid bombings. The lawyer attempted to question the witness on the contents of this report, but Díaz de Mera replied that he did not know details of the contents, nor did he know the names of the authors; only that he had been told by his source that it was a man and a woman. Asked who had given the order to conceal the report, he stated that he had never claimed such an order had been given.

When asked by the same lawyer who his source was for the information about this report, Díaz de Mera refused to give the name. The chief judge, Gómez Bermudez, offered him the possibility of writing the name on a piece of paper instead of declaring it in open court, but the witness still refused to do this saying that it could put his source in jeopardy. The judge replied that the court undertook responsibility for protecting witnesses and reminded the witness that the law required him to identify the source on which his testimony is based. He advised Díaz de Mera that he could face charges for a crime of disobedience, and ordered a recess of 5 minutes to allow the witness to consider his position. At the restart of the session, Díaz de Mera still refused to name his source, Gómez Bermudez reminded him again of the possible consequences of his refusal and fined him 1000 euros (see footnote).

The final witness to appear on this day was an officer of the Guardia Civil, identified as witness X-33167-T. This witness was ordered to prepare a report in April 2004 on the declarations made by Emilio Suárez Trashorras about the theft of the explosives in Asturias. He declared that he travelled to the region and interviewed employees of the mine and members of the local Guardia Civil. He reached the conclusion that both the explosives and the detonators came from the Conchita mine. He also visited the manufacturer of the dynamite and made tests on the quantity of explosive which could fit into bags similar to those used by the accused.

The court will not reconvene for further sessions until the 9th April.

The refusal of Díaz de Mera to name his source has put the spotlight on the conspiracy theorists. He made his original allegation on the radio programme of Federico Jiménez Losantos, and as with all the best conspiracy theorist allegations he gave no detail which can possibly be tested or disproven. It is surprising the judge did not also warn him about the consequences of committing perjury, but in any case he is potential trouble. Díaz de Mera is not a professional policeman, he was a political protege of Ángel Acebes and is now a member of the European Parliament for the Partido Popular. He could now face trial and a potential prison sentence for refusing to reveal the source, although first his parliamentary immunity must be lifted. Ironic that this situation should have arisen from the questioning by those who attempt to introduce the conspiracy theories into the trial, they have ended up placing one of their "assets" in big trouble. The first witness today, Jesús Parilla, is also involved in some legal difficulties connected to the conspiracy theories. He has been charged in connection with revealing details of a police investigation in progress to the newspaper El Mundo; the investigation had to be rapidly terminated as a result of the newspaper publishing details of it. Another murky case connected to the campaign of the conspiracy theorists.

International Herald Tribune - Ex-official fined for silence on claim of Basque link to Madrid bombs
EITB - Police chief refuses to unveil who said ETA was linked to bombing

ABC - Police witness Parilla
ABC - Díaz de Mera
ABC - Díaz de Mera and the ETA report
Datadiar - Summary of the day

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Trial....Day 20, March 27th

The Asturian Connection

Day 20 of the trial began with the continuing declaration of the former head of the police drug squad in Avilés, Manuel García Rodríguez; known as Manolón. Today Manolón told the court that he saw Emilio Suárez Trashorras in the company of two North Africans in December 2003. He said that Trashorras did not tell him anything about this, and denied knowing any details about those accused of having purchased the explosives for the bombs from Trashorras. He admitted that Trashorras had offered him the possibility of detaining those who were involved in drug trafficking in Asturias, but said that he was not given the exact day on which they would come. He stated that the police paid relatively little attention to trafficking with hashish.

The next witness was an officer from the police Central Unit for Interior Information (UCII in Spanish) who testified that Trashorras gave them information on the 17th March 2004 about the possible involvement of North Africans in the bombings. This witness, a specialist in ETA, spoke at length with Trashorras and told the court that the latter never made any reference to a connection between Jamal Ahmidam (El Chino) and ETA. Nor did Trashorras make any reference to El Chino knowing the members of ETA arrested in Cuenca at the end of February 2004.

The witness said that he never received any instructions to direct the investigation towards ETA. Questioned on possible relationships between ETA and Islamists, he said that organisations like ETA did not tend to cooperate with other groups, although some personal contacts may occur between individual members os such groups. The defence lawyer for Jamal Zougam and Basel Ghalyoun asked the witness if ETA had participated in the attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993. At this point the chief judge intervened to point out that this event was not being tried here. The same lawyer then asked if ETA were involved in supplying forged passports in connection with this attack, the witness replied that he had no information at all about the World Trade Centre bombing.

The witness declared that he arrived in Avilés on the 16th March following the lead of the detonators discovered in Madrid. The witness said that on arrival in Asturias, the police first went to the mine from where the explosives were stolen. He declared that the company running the mine told them that they were a model company in terms of security and that the miners working there were local and trustworthy. The reason for the visit the following day to Avilés was because the mobile telephone antenna in Morata de Tajuña, which registered the activation of cards used in the bombs, had also registered calls to this town in February 2004. The following day he said that he met Manolón in the Guardia Civil barracks, and that the latter told him and his companions about what Trashorras had said about the possible involvement of North Africans. They decided to talk to Trashorras as a result of this information. He said they had a long, informal conversation in Avilés on the 17th March 2004, the following day the decision was taken to arrest Trashorras for his connection to the train bombings. This witness declared that Trashorras talked to them about someone he called "Mowgli", which is how Trashorras referred to El Chino; and also about Rafa (Rafá Zouhier). Trashorras also mentioned the property in Morata de Tajuña rented by El Chino. At no point did Trashorras explicitly mention explosives during the conversation.

The following witness is the only person so far to have been convicted for an offence in connection with the train bombings, Gabriel Montoya; also known as "El Gitanillo". Montoya has been convicted of transporting a bag containing explosives to Madrid, and talked in his declaration of having accompanied Trashorras and El Chino to the Conchita mine on several occasions. He testified on a visit made on the 26th February 2004, and another that they made on the 28th in the company of some Moroccans, including El Chino. Montoya said that on this latter visit Trashorras and El Chino were insiide the mine for 45 minutes, and when they returned he heard Trashorras say to El Chino that he should not "forget the bolts and screws". Back in Avilés, the witness said that the Moroccans bought some rucksacks before they all went back to the mine. Montoya said that the Moroccans returned 90 minutes later with the rucksacks full. Again they went to Avilés where the contents of the rucksacks were unloaded in a garage belonging to Trashorras. A further visit was made to the mine, following the same procedure with the rucksacks. Under questioning from the prosecution, Montoya said that Trashorras had told him the Moroccans wanted the explosives to rob jewelry stores. Following the bombings he said that Trashorras made a remark to him about what "Mowgli" had done.

Montoya made his first journey carrying explosives to Madrid at the end of January 2004, using a commercial bus to get there. He gave the bag he was carrying to a man he has identified as being El Chino. He declared that he was paid 1000 euros by Trashorras for making the journey. He claimed that at this point he did not know what he was carrying, but that the next day he was told by another of the accused, Iván Granados. He made a further journey on the 4th March 2004.

Finally came testimony from two employees of the Conchita mine, from where the explosives were stolen. Ramiro and Gonzalo López declared that the first thing they did on arrival at the mine was to change clothes in the gatehouse at the entrance. Then they would collect the keys to the stores for the explosives and each would collect the amount of explosive that they believed they would need for their work that day. The keys would be left at the store for the next person. Ramiro declared that they would usually take a bit more explosive than they expected to use, perhaps 2 or 3 kilos excess. They would then inform the mine security guard, Emilio Llano, who would be supposed to record these details. Gonzalo López testified that it would be possible to remove dynamite from the mine as the excess explosive and detonators was left where they had been working. He declared that security was tightened after the train bombings and that the same lack of control was not present in other mines owned by the company.

El Mundo - Manolón
El Mundo - UCII police witness
El Mundo - UCII police witness
El Mundo - El Gitanillo
ABC - Mine employees

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Trial....Day 19, March 26th

The Asturian Connection

This day of the trial has been principally focused on the group from Asturias who are accused of having provided the explosives used in the train bombs. The first witness, identified as N-88, was an inmate of the prison of Villabona in 2003; and has testified that he informed the Guardia Civil that Emilio Suárez Trashorras and Antonio Toro were attempting to sell explosives. The witness recognised that the source for this information came from fellow inmate José Ignacio Fernández Díaz (known as Nayo), who is currently believed to be in the Dominican Republic. He said that Nayo told him that Trashorras and Toro trafficked with explosives stolen from a mine, which he identified as being the Conchita mine from which the explosives used in the train bombings are said to have been stolen from. This witness also said that Nayo told him that the accused had attempted to sell explosives to ETA, and that ETA had tried to steal the explosives rather than buy them.

After this witness came another who is a friend of two of those accused of assisting in the transfer of the explosives from Asturias to Madrid in February 2004; Sergio Álvarez and Iván Reis. The witness could not confirm whether the accused had told him that they were transporting hashish or pirate compact discs. He said that both told him about their journey to Madrid with bags that are alleged to have contained stolen explosives. He also claimed that Iván Reis told him about the incident with Jamal Ahmidam on arrival in Madrid, where Ahmidam took the other mans wallet and mobile telephone because Reis was not carrying an envelope he expected to receive.

Also declaring on the group associated with supplying the explosives was an ex-girlfriend of Rafá Zouhier. During her testimony Zouhier was expelled from the court because of gestures and noise he made during the testimony of the witness. This witness declared that she knew Zouhier was mixed up in "strange things", and that he had told her he was a police informer to try and convince her he was not a criminal. On an incident where Zouhier is alleged to have hurt himself experimenting with a detonator, she said she was not present when it happened and that Zouhier told her the injury to his hand was caused by a mobile phone. She said that later she saw the damage caused by the explosion to a mattress, and that she saw the wounds to the face caused by the same event to another accused, Rachid Aglif. This witness was also present at meetings alleged to be concerned with the sale of the explosives, one of which was held at a branch of McDonalds in Moncloa, Madrid. She declared that she never trusted Zouhier and that he was a violent person. When asked if he appeared to be a radical Islamist, she said that he observed Ramadam and prayed, but that he also went out at night and drank alcohol. She said he was anti-American and anti-Jewish.

An other witness with close connections to those accused of the explosives theft was Francisco Javier Villazón Lavandera. This witness declared that in the summer of 2001 Antonio Toro was offering explosives to all and sundry in the nightclub/brothel called Horóscopo (located in Gijón, Asturias) where Lavandera worked as a doorman. Lavandera said that Toro even asked him to find a buyer for the explosives. The witness said that Toro told him he had protection and that if Lavandera was caught, Toro could free him with a telephone call to this person. He said that Toro suggested to him that he could transport explosives to the Basque country. He also declared that Toro showed him some sticks of Goma 2 ECO that he had stored in the boot of his car, he was able to identify the dynamite because he had worked in the past as a miner. He said that he informed the police about this, but that they did not take him seriously, no signed declaration was made. He also claimed that Trashorras tried to get him to help sell explosives in 2001 while Toro was in prison. Lavandera claims he was threatened by the police against revealing any possible link between Toro and ETA.

Following Lavandera came the testimony of a police officer called Jesús Campillo who interviewed Lavandera in 2003. This witness recorded the conversation with Lavandera, and wrote a report based on it which implicated Trashorras and Toro in the sale of explosives. He said that he was taken off the case although the allegations made by Lavandera were taken up in a police operation codenamed Serpiente.

Another witness who testified on this day about the Asturian connection was Lofti Sbai, a friend of Rafá Zouhier. He declared that he was a witness to an argument between Zouhier and Antonio Toro two days after the bombings. He said that Zouhier told him later that the argument concerned the train bombings and that Toro was frightened because he thought that Trashorras might have sold the explosives used. The witness also stated that Zouhier admitted to him that Jamal Ahmidam had bought the explosives off Trashorras, but that he never imagined that Ahmidam would carry out something llike the train bombings. Sbai said that he urged Zouhier to tell the police what he knew and that Zouhier told him he would inform his Guardia Civil contacts. He said that the following weekend at his birthday celebration he noticed that Zouhier was nervous and scared.

The next witness to declare, and whose declaration continues into day 20, was the former head of the police drug squad in Avilés. Manuel Rodríguez, commonly known as "Manolón" declared on his relationship with Trashorras. He denied that Trashorras had told him about Jamal Ahmidam dealing with drugs in Asturias, and said that he never suspected that Trashorras was trafficking explosives. Trashorras was an informant of Manolón and the witness agreed that his information had helped in the detection of some drug trafficking operations. However, he claimed that Trashorras never talked to him about the Moroccans accused of buying the explosives, saying that the informant only told him about some who were exchanging hashish for cocaine. He declared that after the attacks, on the 12th March, Trashorras told him that it was something done by "the moors", but that Manolón ignored this because Trashorras frequently exaggerated. On the 15th March 2004 when the Islamist involvement was clearer, he said that Trashorras told him about a visit made with Carmen Toro to the house in Morata de Tajuña and that on leaving they were told by someone presumed to be Jamal Ahmidam that "if we don't see each other on earth, we will meet in heaven". The police officer declared that he passed this information to police headquarters on the same day. On the 17th March the police arrived from Madrid to interrogate Trashorras and Manolón said he passed on a copy of Trashorras' diary containing names of possible suspects. The witness claimed he knew nothing of an alleged relationship between Jamal Ahmidam and members of ETA.

The Telephone Cards

The cards used in the telephones that were timers for the bombs were from the company known at the time as Amena. The head of security for Amena at the time of the bombings was José Domingo Río, who declared on actions taken as a result of the police investigation. He declared that on the night of the 12th March he ordered the storage of all call traffic related to the antenna for the zone of Morata de Tajuña, location of the house where the bombs are said to have been prepared. He said he had been alerted on the morning of the 12th following the discovery of the Vallecas bomb and the telephone it contained. He was alsed to help in finding the place from where the card in the phone had been sold, and the shop was identified by 13:30 that day. They were then given a judicial order to investigate the use of the card, and by 21:30 they had established a connection to the antenna at Morata de Tajuña for the activation of the card; although no outgoing or incoming calls were registered for it. The witness stated that afterwards he was informed that the card belonged to a consignment of 30 cards and that 15 of these had been activated, although the records of some of these had been lost because they were older than 72 hours.

Also declaring about the house at Morata de Tajuña was Mustapha el Haddar who worked on the house in the last days of February 2004. He was contracted by Jamal Ahmidam, the contact came via another of the accused, Abdelilah el Fadoual el Akil. The witness said he only worked for 3 days at the property, but that during this time he also saw Serhane ben Abdelmajid, Hamid Ahmidam and Otman el Gnaoui.

El Mundo - First witness
El Mundo - Zouhier's ex-girlfriend
El Mundo - Lavandera
El Mundo - Amena security chief
El País - Lavandera
El Mundo - Lofti Sbai
El Mundo - Manolón

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Trial....Day 18, March 21st

The Telephones Used In The Bombs

On day 18 the attention of the court has shifted to the telephones that were used to detonate the bombs on the trains. The first 3 witnesses to declare today are the owners of the shop (Bazar Top) where the telephones used in the bombs were bought. These witnesses were detained in the immediate aftermath of the bombings as the police followed the trail of the telephone recovered from the Vallecas bomb, although they were later released. The first to declare was Rakesh Kumar who declared that the person who bought the telephones was a man with slightly separated teeth and not much hair. The witness did not identify this person as being any of those accused. The witness said that this man had told him he wanted the phones for a construction company. The next witness was Suresh Kumar, brother of the previous one. He said that the telephones purchased, of the model Trium 110, were the cheapest and they had plenty in stock. The first day they sold three, then the same person returned the next day for 6 more. On a third occasion the man bought one more phone and a clock. The codes of the telephones sold were registered in the shop, although without the date of sale. The third witness, Vinay Kholi, was the person who organized the liberation of the telephones so that they were not tied to a particular service provider.

The next witness to testify was a Spanish citizen of Syrian descent, Ayman Maussili Kalaji. At the time of the bombings this witness was a serving officer in the national police, although he is now retired. He is also the owner of a company, Test Ayman S.L., which is dedicated to the liberation of mobile telephones for use with different providers. It was this company that carried out the liberation of the phones used as timers in the bombings. On the 4th March 2004, the company liberated 12 telephones for Bazar Top, and 4 more on the 8th March. Following the detention of the owners of Bazar Top, Kalaji voluntarily declared to the police, the following day he stated that he was taken to the police headquarters at Canillas in Madrid for further questioning. The employee responsible for taking the telephones from the shop to be liberated, Washington Mauricio Cuenca, could only testify that he took many telephones; without being able to specify a quantity.

Following the question of the telephones used in the bombs came that of the cards inside these phones. It is alleged by the prosecution that these cards came from the shop run by one of the accused, Jamal Zougam. Two witnesses have testified from the company, Shindu Enterprise, that sold the cards to Zougam’s business. They confirmed that they sold a batch of 100 Amena cards in February 2004 and they have identified Jamal Zougam, as well as his partners Mohamed Bekali and Mohamed Chaoui. According to the testimony, it was Bekali who took delivery of the cards.

The House Where The Bombs Were Prepared

The next witness, Walid al Tarakji al Masri, is the person who arranged the rental of the house in Morata de Tajuña with Serhane ben Abdelmajid (El Tunecino) in 2002. This is the property where it is alleged that the bombs were prepared. The witness said that he knew El Tunecino before the rental operation, having seen him in a mosque. The witness confirmed that the rental of the property became responsibility of Jamal Ahmidam in January 2004, although Ahmidam rented the property using a false name.

On the sale of the telephone cards again, the witness Abdul Khaled Al Jondi told the court that it was El Tunecino who bought telephone cards from him 2 months before the attacks, saying that El Tunecino arrived in the company of another Moroccan man with a pale complexion and a black beard. The witness stated that he already knew El Tunecino before the day of the purchase. He said that El Tunecino told him he was planning to start a telephone shop, and that the person accompanying him was going to be the manager.

The Islamists Under Surveillance

The afternoon session left the organisational details behind the bombings, and focused on the police witnesses who testified on surveillance of some members of the group involved. An inspector from the Madrid Provincial Information Brigade, identified by police number 56589, declared that the property in the Madrid street of Virgen del Coro where some of the accused lived was watched by the police from the end of March 2003 until the arrests made after the bombings. The witness described this address as a meeting place and a centre for indoctrination and display of Islamist videos. The surveillance of the property was not constant during the entire period. The witness stated that the police noted the entrance and exit of persons who passed through the property or who lived there.

However the witness could not guarantee that those charged in the trial participated in the meetings held at Virgen del Coro, attendance could only be deduced from their presence in the building at the time such meetings were held. The witness confirmed that the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah Dabas were both being investigated for their involvement in recruitment of volunteers for the Islamist cause. Both brothers aroused suspicion because they maintained a level of expenditure that did not correspond with their likely incomes. Suspicion increased when it was noted that they travelled frequently to London and made regular telephone calls to that city. The witness said that they knew Moutaz Almallah Dabas had no professional activity in London and that he was in the circle of people around the radical cleric Abu Qutada, linked to Al Qaeda.

The witness said that Mouhannad Almallah Dabas met frequently with Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit at the property, with the frequent attendance of El Tunecino, and that the frequency of visits Almallah Dabas made was beyond that normally expected of someone acting as landlord. The police observed that the calls made by Mouhannad to London were almost always followed by calls to countries in the Middle East or North Africa. This witness also mentioned the hiring of a car to take Almallah Dabas to Ceuta, which was later found in Morrocco with six passports inside. There was also testimony on the relationship of Fadoual el Akil with the group, particularly on a meeting with El Tunecino in February 2004.

The inspector stated that his group received no orders to increase vigilance following the threats made by Osama bin Laden against Spain.

The Leganés Siege

The next police witness to appear was a member of the UCIE group concerned with Islamist activity. This witness testified on the beginning of the police siege of the apartment in Leganés on April 3rd 2004, which terminated with the suicide of the group inside. This officer stated that the police arrived in the area of the apartment because they had been informed that several of the telephone cards they were investigating were active in this area, and they had orders to try and track them. He said that he and 2 other members of his unit arrived in the Leganés street of Carmen Martín Gaite some time after 15:30 p.m. on this day. In the same area were two inspectors and a deputy inspector. The witness said that he believed another unit to be nearby because he saw a car from the police station at Canillas.

Shortly after they arrived, a person identified as the accused Abdelmajid Bouchar emerged from a nearby building with a bag of rubbish which he left on the ground by the rubbish bin. However, Bouchar did not go back into the building, the witness stated that he came past them on the street and then became increasingly nervous and increased his speed. Suddenly he started running and despite being warned to stop by the police he continued running until they lost sight of him. The witness stated that Bouchar ran very fast and went towards the railway station, eventually crossing the tracks. After losing sight of him, the witness returned to the building that Bouchar had fled from, and collected the rubbish bag left behind and put it in the police car so it could be handed over later for forensic examination.

At approximately 16:30 the witness began to hear chants and shouts in Arabic from one of the apartments in the building. He said that he could not be sure whether these were signs of happiness or suffering. Suddenly they heard the sound of a detonation, followed by silence from the apartment. The witness at this point was about 3 metres from the building entrance, and signalled to those residents looking out of their windows that they should go back inside. He said that someone looked out from what he believed to be the apartment where the shouts had come from, saw the witness below and immediately disappeared from sight. The police set about evacuating the building and about an hour or two later the special assault force known as the Geos (Grupo Especial de Operaciones )arrived. At around 20:00 the Geos entered the building, the witness said that there was a lot of confusion. A small explosion was heard, followed by silence then a much bigger explosion which destroyed the apartment and much of the building.

Finally on day 18 came the testimony of the commanding officer of the Geos who entered the building in Leganés, located at number 40 in the street Carmen Martín Gaite. This officer stated that the unit never intended to enter the flat where the 7 suspects were holding out. The objective was to force them out with tear gas and to arrest them. He said he was asked to come as quickly as possible to the building with his unit at approximately 18:00 on the 3rd April. He declared that the deputy director general of the police, Pedro Diaz Pintado, told him that the authors of the train bombings were inside and that they possessed explosives. He also declared that he was told there had been some shots fired from the apartment, and that it was suspected there were between 3 and 5 people inside.

According to this witness, 10 Geos arrived at the building at 19:00 p.m. Another 4 and the witness arrived 15 or 20 minutes later. Whilst they were preparing to intervene, the witness was told about an intercepted telephone conversation from someone inside the flat telling the person on the other end of the call that they were surrounded and would die that night. They tried to obtain plans of the building and discovered that the apartment next to the target one belonged to a police officer. The Geos entered his apartment, and from there they could hear shouting from the adjoining apartment. One option they considered was to destroy the wall connecting the two apartments and enter this way, but they discarded this option because of the likely presence of explosives on the other side. Instead they returned to the landing by the staircase leading up to the target apartment, the witness was present inside the building with his team. Some of the team were on the staircase below and others on the section immediately above. Next, the Geos blew open the door of the apartment and shouted to the occupants that they should give themselves up. The response was the sound of shots being fired, shouts in Arabic and some in Spanish taunting the Geos to enter the apartment. The Geos fired tear gas into the flat and at this point those inside shouted that they were going to send someone outside. The Geos replied that anyone leaving should come out naked and with his hands up. A few seconds later came the explosion, the time was 21:03 p.m. This explosion killed one of the Geos, Francisco Javier Torronteras, the 192nd victim of the train attacks.

Finally the witness was asked by one of the defence lawyers whether he considered the strategy adopted to have been the correct one. The witness replied that he felt satisfied with his decision, as the other options might have put the lives of more people at risk.

Interesting evidence on the police surveillance of some of the accused. There is a growing feeling that more could have been done to avoid or detect the attack, and that the possibility of such an attack was not taken sufficiently seriously. The Leganés siege has been another target for those who claim that the whole operation has been a setup by pro-socialist members of the security forces. It has also provoked some of the most outlandish aspects of the already bizarre conspiracy theories. The response from supporters of these theories to the account given in court has been muted, they have never been able to make much headway in presenting the suicide of the nucleus of the group accused of the bombings as being a fake. The problem they have is that if Leganés is genuine then there is no conspiracy.

El Mundo - Telephone sale witnesses
El Mundo - Liberation of the telephones
El Mundo - Sale of the phone cards
El País - Morning session
El Mundo - Police surveillance
El Mundo - Bouchar escapes
El Mundo - Leganés explosion
El País - Leganés siege

Extradited....Moutaz Almallah Dabas

A Syrian citizen, Moutaz Almallah Dabas was extradited from the United Kingdom on the 8th March 2007, after the trial had begun. Brother of the accused Mouhannad Almallah Dabas, he was arrested on the 19th March 2005 in Slough, not far from London. His brother had been arrested the day before in Spain. He is accused along with his brother of being involved with the Islamist cell responsible for organising the train bombings; both are accused of having been involved in recruitment of young people for radical Islamist causes. Moutaz Almallah Dabas was the tenant of a property in the Madrid street of Virgen del Coro allegedly used for this purpose.

El País

MSN news

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Trial....Day 17, March 20th

Day 17 began with the focus once again on the unexploded bomb discovered early on the morning of 12th March 2004 in the police station at Puente de Vallecas. The two police officers (police numbers 88163 and 79046) who made the discovery have described how they were instructed to carry out an inventory of personal effects that had been recovered from the train at the station of El Pozo. This task began at around 22:00 p.m. on the night of the 11th March. At approximately 1:45 a.m., one of these agents opened the bag containing the bomb and removed the mobile phone she saw inside; only to find that it was connected by cables to a plastic wrapped package. The other agent involved said that on the plastic bag inside the main bag was a piece of paper with the number 5 written on it.

The possessions they were checking had been placed in large rubbish bags which had been closed with a knot. The witnesses said that there were many different items inside the rubbish bags, such as shoes, clothes, wallets, rucksacks and other kinds of bag. The aim of the inventory was to find something which could identify the owner of each item, and to create a register of all items checked. The officer who opened the bag with the bomb testified that it was a sports bag, and that it was noticeably heavy. Once they noticed the cables exiting the mobile telephone in the bag, they advised a superior officer that the station should be evacuated. This superior officer advised the bomb disposal squad about the existence of the bomb. In total, 17 bags full of personal effects were checked as part of the inventory process.

In the same session there have been declarations by police witnesses who accompanied the bags of personal effects as they were transported from the station of El Pozo. The journey was not a direct one, at first they were taken to the police station of Villa de Vallecas, from which they were redirected to that of Puente de Vallecas. However, from there they were told to take the bags to the Ifema exhibition centre, which had been converted into an emergency centre and temporary morgue. After spending some time at this centre, the bags were once again taken to the police station of Puente de Vallecas. The bags were only unloaded at Ifema, and finally on the second visit to Puente de Vallecas. Only one of today’s witnesses accompanied the bags on all of their stops. The total number of bags taken from El Pozo was not recorded, but the witnesses have testified that they filled two police vans with these personal effects.

One witness, identified with police number 89324, described how the bags were stored temporarily at Ifema in an area that was cordoned off. This witness returned to Puente de Vallecas but almost immediately had to return to Ifema to collect the bags again. He testified that the bags were exactly as they had been when deposited there shortly before. On arriving again with the bags at Puente de Vallecas, they were left in a room that was locked.

The following witnesses testified on a Skoda car which is alleged by the prosecution to have been another vehicle used by those who placed the bombs. This car was not found until the 15th June 2004, when it was discovered in the street called Infantado in Alcalá de Henares. The car, which had been stolen, was initially returned to its owners; the car hire firm Hertz. Only when it was taken to a workshop to be checked were objects discovered inside it that are relevant to the train bombings case. The witness with police number 86520 was called to this workshop to inspect the vehicle; in the boot he saw a suitcase, a plastic bag, two alarm clocks and a tube of glue.

The scientific police arrived at the scene to inspect the vehicle and take photographs. Dog handlers were also called, one of the two dogs used to inspect the car showed signs of having detected something, although no explosives were discovered. The witnesses appearing from the scientific police testified that they found a Palestinian headscarf, a balaclava, trousers, a polo shirt, a pistol holster, an empty mobile telephone packaging, and two tapes with Arabic inscriptions. They tested the tapes in the car cassette and found they contained Arabic chants.

Next on this busy day, testimony focused on the house in Morata de Tajuña where the prosecution alleges the bombs were prepared. Two witnesses from the Central Unit for External Information (UCIE in Spanish) have testified on an inspection they made of this property on the 26th March 2004. One of them declared that they were able to enter the property with keys that were provided to them by Hamid Ahmidam, cousin of Jamal Ahmidam (the person who had rented this property). Hamid Ahmidam had been arrested the day before in connection with the train attacks. The witnesses were accompanied in their visit by officers from the scientific police and the bomb disposal squad (Tedax). In a pit lined with bricks, the police discovered traces of explosives, although according to one of the witnesses the sniffer dogs did not detect the presence of explosive substances. Inside the house samples were collected for DNA and fingerprint tests. Some documentation was discovered as well. Outside of the house the police discovered a bag containing some used detonators, and some firearms cartridges.

Finally, two witnesses from the UCIE testified about a search that was made of the residence of Hamid Ahmidam, located in the Madrid street of Cerro de los Angeles. During this search they discovered a significant quantity of drugs, hashish and tablets, together with 19000 euros in cash and documentation of sales made. Fake documentation in the name of Jamal Ahmidam was also discovered during this search.
At least part of the day was again dominated by the parallel trial being conducted by the conspiracy theorists. The reason that so much attention is devoted to the route taken by the personal possessions from El Pozo is because the conspiracy theorists try to pretend that the chain of custody may not have been maintained, thus allowing the mysterious "someone" to plant the Vallecas bomb. Nothing new emerged today on this issue that wasn't already known, the bags were moved from place to place in the confusion of the day of the bombings. However, nothing has emerged suggesting anything especially unusual took place with these possessions recovered from one of the trains where bombs exploded.

El Mundo - Vallecas Bomb
El País - Vallecas Bomb
El Mundo - Skoda Car
ABC - House in Morata

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Trial....Day 16, March 19th

Day 16 began with further testimony on the unexploded bomb that was discovered in a police station in Vallecas in the early hours of the 12th March 2004. The first witness to appear was a member of the Tedax, the Spanish bomb disposal squad. This witness, with police number 64501, was the Tedax officer who deactivated the “Vallecas” bomb. He was questioned on why this device did not explode on the train, and responded that the cable connections had not been taped and that they could touch as the bag was moved, provoking a short circuit. He expressed the opinion that the person responsible for the connection of the cables was perhaps not the same as the one who set up the mobile telephone to be used as a timer, as the latter task showed evident signs of expertise.

The witness said that the bomb was of simple, but clever, construction. He also said that it was different from the kinds of bomb the Tedax were used to dealing with, mostly devices prepared by ETA. What surprised him initially was that the telephone was turned off and the wires were not taped. Also, he could not see any reason why the charger for the telephone was also inside the bag containing the bomb.

He said that when he was phoned in the early hours of the morning and told that a suspicious bag had been found, he was told by the police that the bag had come from the station of El Pozo. Later when he inspected the bag he knew it contained a bomb because the telephone with cables exiting matched the other device which had been found and destroyed at the same station on the day of the 11th. The agent felt the bag and could tell that it contained a “gelatinous” substance. He inserted his finger and smelt it; the smell was of bitter almonds, something which explosives experts identify with dynamite.

The witness decided, together with another Tedax officer, to take the device to the nearby Azorín park, the intention being to avoid the evacuation of apartment blocks near to the police station. Once in the park they x-rayed the device, although the witness said that these x-rays only showed the silhouette of the telephone and a mass of cables. It was not even possible to follow the route of the individual cables.

The next witness to testify was another Tedax agent, identified by police number 65255. This officer was responsible for the controlled explosion of a different unexploded device that was recovered from the train at the station of El Pozo. He said that the Tedax arrived at this station around 9:00 a.m. on the day of the bombings, and that inside the station they found municipal and national police, fireman, and health workers. They began to check the train, although there were already bags outside of the carriages. One particular bag attracted the attention of this witness because of comments by a municipal policeman who took it off the train. Opening the bag, the witness saw a mobile telephone connected to cables entering a blue rubbish bag. Asked about whether the connections were taped, he said they were not, and for this reason he believed the bomb had not exploded. When asked if he saw other suspicious bags on checking the carriages of the train, he said that he did. Until these bags were checked the train was evacuated of rescue workers. None of these suspicious bags turned out to be a bomb, he said the train was checked 3 or 4 times.

In the afternoon session came the testimony of the municipal policeman who removed from the train the unexploded bomb discovered at El Pozo station. This witness said that he discovered the bag containing the bomb in the third carriage of the train, but as the priority at the time was to get the wounded off the train he simply removed the bag and left it in what he thought would be a safe place in case it exploded. His initial intention was to leave it on the tracks, but in the end he left it by a waste paper bin on the platform.

This witness declared that he arrived together with 5 companions at the station with orders to rescue the victims. He saw the bag in one of the carriages where no explosions had occurred; it caught his attention because there were no other bags left in this carriage. He said that it was a black rucksack, weighing about 10 kilos, and had been left underneath one of the seats. On checking inside the bag he saw the mobile telephone and the cables connecting it to a plastic recipient. He advised one of the national police of what he had found and the latter raised the alarm by radio.

Another witness on this day was Luis Garrudo, the caretaker of a block of apartments close to the railway station in Alcalá de Henares. It was this witness who alerted the police to the presence of the Kangoo van parked close to the station. Garrudo saw 3 men leaving this van on the morning of March 11th 2004 as he went down to the railway station to collect some free newspapers. The men attracted his attention because they seemed to be overdressed given the fine weather that morning. He said that the first man he saw was carrying a bag in one hand, and a rucksack in the other. He declared that he did not see the men enter the station itself, although all 3 were heading in that direction. He had no doubt that they were foreigners. When he returned to the property where he worked, the van was still there but the men he had seen were not. When he heard later the news about the bombings he decided to inform the police about what he had seen.

Later appeared two witnesses from a construction site who saw a man removing clothing close to the railway station of Vicálvaro, on the route taken by the trains carrying the bombs. The man attracted their attention because he was wearing more clothes underneath the ones he removed. One of these witnesses has identified the man he saw as being physically similar to Mohamed Oulad Akcha, Rifaat Anouar or Mohamed Bouharrat.

Also appearing on a busy day for witnesses was another dog handler of those who inspected the Kangoo van, following on from the first who gave testimony last week. This witness was questioned on whether he considered it normal for the dog to detect the presence of explosives in a van that may have been used to transport 50 or 60 kilos. He said that the dog should detect something because there are always some traces of the odour. The dogs which inspected the inside of the van did not detect the remains of a stick of dynamite that was wrapped in a bag together with some detonators underneath one of the seats. The full internal inspection of the van did not take place until it had been transported to the headquarters of the scientific police in the district of Canillas. Questioned on whether the dog would detect the small amount of explosive in the bag with the detonators, the witness replied that this could be difficult to detect.

Another witness, identified by police number 75039, was responsible for sealing the van in preparation for it to be removed from Alcalá. Because the vehicle was in gear, he had to enter the van from the rear to free it for removal. He testified that nothing that was in the back part of the van caught his attention, nor was there any object too big to impede free movement inside. He entered this way to open the front door on the driver’s side so that he could then come in from there to change the gear. At this point he sealed the vehicle ready for its removal.

Further excitement here for the conspiracy theorists as they attempt to prove that the Vallecas bomb was planted. The absence of evidence of it's presence at El Pozo has always been used by them to try and insinuate that it was not on the train - in reality all that has been demonstrated is that it was not found at El Pozo. They also get excited at the failure of the dogs to detect explosives in the Kangoo van, even though the only explosive recovered from this van was a small piece in a plastic bag underneath one of the seats. Meanwhile, the evidence that the bomb was entirely different from those traditionally prepared by ETA has of course been almost completely ignored by those who find such facts uncomfortable. On days like this it is more difficult for me to give a straightforward account of evidence, I rely heavily on press accounts and these tend to be much less impartial when dealing with the controversial issues affected by the conspiracy theories. I do what I can to sift through the mixture of reporting and what is often no more than comment.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Key Evidence....The Vallecas Bomb

The only unexploded bomb recovered intact from the trains, it is called the “Vallecas” bomb because the police station where it was discovered is located in the Madrid district of the same name. The real importance of this bomb, and what makes it a major target for the conspiracy theorists, is that the mobile telephone used as a timer for the device led to the first arrests made in the aftermath of the attacks. The sports bag in which it was found also contained a significant quantity of explosive, Goma 2 Eco, as well as shrapnel consisting of nails and screws. This does not mean that it is by any means the only important evidence in the case against the accused, but it has significance in that it was the first decisive lead for the police investigation.

The bomb was not detected on the day of the attacks itself, but was found in the early hours of the next morning as police officers in the Vallecas police station checked personal effects that had been recovered from a train where bombs exploded at the station of El Pozo del Tio Raimundo. The discovery was made by two police officers, identified by their service numbers 88.163 and 79.046.

Now, bearing in mind that the conspiracy theorists want to pretend that the attack was carried out by ETA in collusion with unidentified elements close to the current Spanish government, and that the explosive used was not Goma 2 Eco, the existence of the Vallecas bomb presents a major obstacle to their theories. They have devoted considerable effort to trying to insinuate that it must have been planted. Lacking any evidence at all to sustain this outlandish notion, they do what all good conspiracy theorists would do in such a situation and attempt to create a version of the events which would permit the mere possibility of someone having planted the bomb; and then act as if they have proved their case. There are two main planks to the conspiracy theorist case, firstly comes an attempt to suggest that the bomb could never have been on the trains. The second part of the case rests on attempts to show that bag containing the bomb was not under permanent police custody during the day of the bombings, meaning that “someone” could have planted it with the fake evidence needed to cover up the true authorship of the train bombings.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Trial....Day 15, March 14th

The 15th day was one of these days that creates a certain expectation because of those who have been called to give evidence. The day began with a long session involving the former head of the bomb disposal squad, known in Spanish as the Tedax. The testimony of this witness, Juan Jesús Sánchez Manzano, occupied the entire morning. The witness was asked about the possible use of Titadine dynamite in the bombs, and he testified that at no point did he hear from any of his units a mention of this explosive in the hours following the attacks. He stated that the first solid indication they had on the use of the dynamite Goma 2 Eco was the discovery of the Kangoo van parked near to the railway station in Alcalá de Henares. Inside this van the police discovered a small quantity of this explosive, which matched a sample of the same explosive that the police held for comparative purposes. Also, in the afternoon of March 11th two employees of the company manufacturing Goma 2 Eco (Unión Española de Explosivos) confirmed that the explosive and 7 detonators found in the van had been manufactured by their company.

Sánchez Manzano declared that the Interior Ministry was informed promptly about all advances made in the investigation, and he denied having received any political pressures. Questioned about the unexploded devices which were discovered in the stations of Atocha and El Pozo, he said that the handling of these devices was the exclusive responsibility of the Tedax officer in charge at each site. Both devices were destroyed in controlled explosions. On the Kangoo van, he stated that it was brought to police installations at Canillas at about 15:00 p.m. on March 11th. He was informed by the scientific police about the discovery made inside this van of the detonators and the small piece of dynamite. The items discovered were then transferred to the Tedax laboratories where the comparison was made with the sample of Goma 2 Eco stored for this purpose. Sánchez Manzano denied any suggestion that the Kangoo van had been manipulated or that anyone had added items to it. When the visitors from the Unión Española de Explosivos confirmed the origin of the dynamite, he said that they also raised an important detail by identifying the detonators as a type only distributed in regions of the north of Spain. The witness declared that it was not until the 15th March 2004 that the Tedax were able to determine that the explosive used in the bombs had come from the Conchita mine in Asturias.

Sánchez Manzano gives evidence

Questioned about the unexploded bomb that was discovered amongst belongings from the station of El Pozo that were being held in a police station in Vallecas, Sánchez Manzano replied that he could not comment on what happened to this bomb during the day of March 11th. He was advised about the existence of the bomb at 2:30 a.m. and it was deactivated by the Tedax at 5:30 a.m. He denied any possibility of contamination that has been detected in tests on the explosives having occurred whilst under custody of the Tedax. He said that the samples were kept in adequate conditions under lock and key. On a statement he made to the parliamentary commission of investigation about the presence of nitroglycerine (not a component of Goma 2 Eco) at the sites of the bombings, he said that this was an error he made because nytroglycerine has always been associated with dynamite. Sánchez Manzano made it clear that he is not an expert in explosives, nor does he have qualifications in chemical analysis.

Following the declaration of Sánchez Manzano came that of the chief inspector of the Tedax for Madrid. This officer had direct responsibility for the actions taken relating to explosives on all the affected trains. He declared that he gave instructions for all the trains to be searched twice from head to tail in an attempt to find any further devices. He could not offer an explanation for the failure of the Tedax to detect the unexploded bomb from El Pozo that was later found in Vallecas. He said that the train was checked and that if no bomb was found it was because someone had removed it before his team arrived. He explained that the Tedax arrived later than other police branches at the station of El Pozo, and their mission was to examine all carriages for unexploded devices. They did find a device in the second or third carriage and this was subjected to a controlled explosion.

During the night following the bombings, the witness was called to the police station in Vallecas where the other unexploded device had been discovered amongst personal effects from the train at El Pozo. He said that when he arrived at 2:30 a.m. the bomb disposal team had already taken the device to the nearby Azorín park. The bag containing the bomb had been x-rayed, and the witness said that when he looked at this x-ray it was clear that the telephone used as a timer was not connected to the detonator.

This witness seconded the testimony of Sánchez Manzano by saying that the use of explosives such as Titadine or Goma 2 EC (predecessor of Goma 2 Eco) was rejected almost from the beginning because of the nature of the damage done by the explosives. He said this was because these explosives degrade with the passage of time and did not have the force of detonation to cause the effects of the bombs on the trains. He stated that Goma 2 Eco does have this potential because the components it contains preserve better this explosive capacity, although he acknowledged that at the time he and the officers under his command had little experience in the effects of using this dynamite.

The witness was in charge of all bomb disposal activities carried out in Atocha station. He said that at the beginning they suspected the use of a military explosive, but that following the controlled explosion of an unexploded device, they ruled out this kind of explosive because the smoke from the explosion did not match the black colour they would expect such an explosive. He said that when he arrived at Atocha, at about 8:20 a.m., the situation was chaotic and the first order he gave was for all the trains in the station to be checked for further devices. He gave the same instructions to the teams working in the other explosion sites at Calle Téllez, El Pozo and Santa Eugenia. The unexploded device found at Atocha could not be deactivated safely, and for this reason they decided to use a controlled explosion. Later they heard of the discovery of another device at El Pozo and this device was also destroyed after attempts to deactivate it were unsuccessful.

This Tedax officer was also present in Leganés on the day that 7 of the group implicated in the bombings committed suicide, the 3rd April 2004. According to his declaration they found two bodies in the swimming pool of the affected block with rudimentary explosive belts attached. This suggested to the police that the first of those inside the apartment who detonated his explosives killed the rest of his companions.

Finally on this day came the declaration of another protected witness, number 74021, who is a police dog handler who carried out an inspection of the Renault Kangoo van found in Alcalá de Henares. This witness confirmed to the court that his dog did not detect explosives during the external inspection of the vehicle. The witness testified that the ability of the dog to detect explosives depended on factors such as the quantity of explosive, and its packaging. The dog handler inspected the interior of the vehicle from the front and testified that he could identify no large articles inside.

The conspiracy theorists are quite excited about the testimony on Day 15, although they really have little grounds for feeling too satisfied. Much of the questioning was carried out by lawyers acting for the victims associations that support the conspiracy thories. Not for the first time these lawyers had to be reminded by the chief judge that their role is to support their submitted accusation which permits them to form part of the trial. The reason for their excitement is that they seek to deny the authenticity of the unexploded bomb found in Vallecas, and also have tried to suggest that the Kangoo van was stuffed with evidence by the conspirators. So the failure to find the Vallecas bomb on the train means to them that it must have been planted. Likewise, they have made great play in the past over Sánchez Manzano's reference to nitroglycerine, this despite the fact that it has not been found anywhere connected to the bombings. The one thing they do not highlight in their coverage of the day is an uncomfortable piece of evidence for them; the use of any explosive other than Goma 2 Eco was already more or less ruled out on the day of the bombings, all the talk of Titadine has been just that.

El Mundo - Sánchez Manzano
ABC - Sánchez Manzano
El Mundo - Tedax chief inspector Madrid
El Mundo - Dog handler Alcalá
Juan Carlos Escudier - Very good piece on the lawyers supporting the conspiracy theories

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Chess Players....TeleMadrid

I don’t make a habit of watching TeleMadrid, the publicly owned television channel run by the regional government of Madrid; currently controlled by the Partido Popular (PP). The channel is subject to a rigid political control of its content that would probably make Chinese state television seem like a model of political plurality. Former employees from all sides of the political spectrum have protested about the situation, and many of the current employees have also participated in ongoing protests about the way this channel is run.

One aspect of this political control has been that TeleMadrid has thrown its weight fully behind the conspiracy theories about the train bombings. One night in the first week of the trial, I had one of their news programmes on whilst I waited for a more informative news programme to begin elsewhere. Even allowing for the political bias I have already described I have to admit I was shocked when a smiling reporter in Atocha station brandished, directly in front of the camera, propaganda stickers produced by the Peones Negros. This was a bit much, that a journalist on what is supposed to be a news programme should start legitimising the activities of a tiny right wing sect-like organisation is taking things a step too far.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I remember being appalled by this channel’s coverage of the London bombings in July 2005. Against a background of film showing emergency workers trying to extract the dead and wounded from the tangled remains of the bus that was blown up, the panel on TeleMadrid continued to argue about whether Prince Albert of Monaco had betrayed Madrid with his vote on which city should get the Olympic Games! It’s at moments like these that you get the full measure of the ethical standards being employed.

However, TeleMadrid has now pushed the limits of cynical exploitation of terrorism just a little bit further. On the 12th March 2007 they chose to mark the 3rd anniversary of the train bombings with a special documentary. You might think that such an occasion would be a chance to honour the victims and perhaps pay homage to the efforts of all those who participated in the attempt to deal with the consequences of that tragic day. Well no, instead what we got was the leader of the Peones Negros, Luis del Pino, being given free rein to air every conspiracy theory fantasy that has been invented about the bombings. So the channel which is paid for by all the citizens of the region of Madrid has nothing better to offer on an event that affected thousands of it's inhabitants than the distorted and sectarian vision of those who are only interested in using these events to try an extract their political revenge for the results of the elections that followed. You have to ask whether it is our own passivity about such things that allows a situation like this to occur with so little protest.

Convicted....Gabriel Montoya

A Spanish citizen, Gabriel Montoya is so far the only person to have been convicted and sentenced for an offence connected to the train bombings. Commonly known as "El Gitanillo", Montoya was accused of having participated in the theft of the explosives used in the bombs. It was found that he accompanied Emilio Suárez Trashorras to the Conchita mine from where the dynamite was stolen. It is also alleged that he carried 20 kilos of explosives to Madrid, where it was collected by Jamal Ahmidam, said to be the operational organiser of the attacks. Because he was only 16 years old at the time, Montoya was tried as a minor and sentenced to 6 years internment in a youth centre, to be followed by 5 years of restricted liberty.

The Trial....Day 14, March 13th

Day 14 commenced with the declaration of another protected witness, identified only as J-35. This person is a former workmate of one of the accused, Mohamed Larbi ben Sellam. The witness stated that Ben Sellam received visits from several people including Mohamed Oulad Akcha, Abdennabi Kounjaa and Allekema Lamari from the group that killed themselves in Leganés; and also from the fugitive Said Berraj. The witness said he thought that Ben Sellam acted as a leader, especially during Ramadam. After the train attacks, Ben Sellam did not come back to his job at the market where they had both worked, although the witness said he did visit on one occasion to see a family member. The police were already looking for him at this stage and had shown his photograph around the market. The witness advised the security forces about this visit.

The next protected witness to appear was identified only as witness J-11. This witness also worked in the same market as Ben Sellam, and stated that the latter was very religious, even to the point of prolonging Ramadam. He saw Ben Sellam in the market two days after the bombings. However, he did not recall some declarations he had made to the police about statements made by Ben Sellam concerning the Americans and suicide attacks in Palestine.

The third witness to appear, also protected and identified as N-33, worked in a vehicle repairs workshop and carried out repairs on several cars belonging to Jamal Ahmidam, El Chino. The cars were brought to the workshop by someone who the witness has identified as being the accused Abdelilah el Fadoual el Akil. The witness said that on two occasions he was accompanied by El Chino, but the latter stayed outside. On another occasion he declared that El Akil was accompanied by someone who has been identified as the accused Mahmoud Slimane Aoun. The witness said that Slimane returned to the workshop shortly after the attacks, and that he told Slimane that his friends were “sons of whores”. He declared that Slimane was very serious and replied that he had been tricked by them.

The next witness to declare was Ibrahim Afalah, the brother of Mohamed Afalah who is believed by the police to have participated in the bombings and who fled immediately afterwards. He is now believed to have died in a suicide attack in Iraq. His brother declared that Afalah fled on the night of the 3rd April 2004, the day of the suicide in Leganés. He said that on the same night he met the only person from the Leganés apartment to escape, Adelmajid Bouchar. Ibrahim Afalah knew Bouchar by sight because he had seen him with his brother. He said that Bouchar told him about his escape from Leganés when he noticed the police as he was taking rubbish out from the apartment. Bouchar’s defence lawyer challenged the witness on whether Bouchar had really told him about his escape from Leganés, Afalah could not offer an explanation for why Bouchar would reveal such details to him. Other defence lawyers asked if he had been pressured by the police to make certain statements, and the witness denied any such pressure.

The 3rd of April 2004 was the day on which Ibrahim Afalah got married. He testified that he was at the home of his parents in law when his brother Mohamed arrived there and asked him for his car. Ibrahim said he saw nothing unusual in the request, it was not the first time it had happened and that his brother did not tell him where he was going; only that he was leaving with Mohamed Belhadj. The witness said that his brother also asked him to go to the house of another man called Ibrahim to get the telephone numbers of Mimoun and Yousef Belhadj, both resident in Belgium. He said that the calls he received from his brother the following day were already made from outside of Spain. About the supposed death of his brother in Iraq, he declared that the family has had no confirmation of this, although his father received a call from Mohamed in May 2004 in which the son asked for forgiveness. This call was followed by one a few days later by one from an unknown man telling the father that his son had died.

The next witness was another whose identity is protected, and was identified as witness A-27. This witness had declared to the police that he saw Jamal Zougam on the train which later exploded in the station of El Pozo. The witness confirmed this declaration in the court, although he changed his account on which part of the train he was seated. The witness testified that on the 11th March 2004 he caught the train leaving Alcalá de Henares at 7 a.m., his destination was the station at Vicálvaro where he worked. In his testimony to the court he said that he sat on the upper deck of a carriage in the centre of the train. The bombs on this train exploded in the fourth and fifth carriages (the train had six in total). In his original declaration to the police the witness said that he travelled on the lower deck of the carriage, and the defence lawyer for Jamal Zougam pressed him on this point. The witness attributed this to a mistaken recollection. He said that before getting off the train in Vicálvaro he noticed a passenger seated nearby with a blue sports bag and who looked to be of North African or gypsy descent. He said that this passenger was having problems putting the bag beneath his seat. By the time the train reached the station of San Fernando he stated that the passenger was no longer there, but the bag remained. He could not say in which station the passenger had left the train. This witness declared that he contacted the police before having seen any photographs of Jamal Zougam in media reports on the bombings.

The following witness was identified only as B-78. The testimony of this witness has attracted attention because she retracted the declaration made to the police in the aftermath of the bombings. In this declaration, the witness said that she had seen Basel Ghalyoun on the train that eventually exploded near to Atocha station by the Calle Tellez. The witness was wounded as a result of the explosion and a friend travelling with her was killed. In court she declared that it was not Ghalyoun who she saw placing a bag beneath a seat. Instead, she said she was now sure that it had been Daoud Ouhnane, who fled after the bombings and has still not been captured. She declared that she realised this after seeing his face in a book she bought about the bombings.

The witness said that she caught the train together with her friend at 7:10 a.m. in Alcalá de Henares. Both women were going to work and their final destination was the station of Nuevos Ministerios in the centre of Madrid. They saw a man in the same carriage who attracted their attention because he seemed to be overdressed with a cap and a scarf. She said that he was carrying a dark bag. This man went briefly to the following carriage, but returned and sat close to the women, leaving the bag under his seat. They noticed when he had gone that the bag was still there, the witness said she even mentioned to her friend that it could be a bomb. Shortly afterwards a bomb exploded in the carriage in front of the one they were travelling in, they ran in the opposite direction to the explosion and at that moment the bomb in their carriage also exploded. The witness made her initial identification of Ghalyoun while she was still in hospital, and confirmed it later with a video shown to her by the police. Shown a photograph of Ghalyoun in the courtroom she confirmed that she was now sure this was not the person she saw on the train.

Next to declare was another protected witness identified only as witness C-65. This witness travelled in the train which exploded whilst in the station of Santa Eugenia. She was travelling in the last carriage of the train, and somewhere in between the stations of San Fernando and Coslada she was hit on the right shoulder by a rucksack being carried by a man next to her. She looked at the man who moved on through to the carriage in front of hers. She declared that she was completely sure this man was Jamal Zougam. Shortly afterwards a bomb exploded in the carriage where the man she saw had gone. The witness was questioned by the defence for Zougam about whether she had seen Zougam’s face in the media in the days following the bombings, but she stated that in the aftermath of the attacks she was unable to watch television or read about what had happened. At one point she started crying under questioning and the judge warned Zougam’s lawyer to be more careful in his manner of questioning the witness. The testimony of C-65 has been backed by another passenger who travelled with her on that day. Both witnesses have declared in court that the man they saw carried a blue bag.

A third witness has also claimed to have identified Jamal Zougam on one of the trains, this time on the train that exploded by the Calle Téllez. This witness had originally identified the person she saw on the train as Abdelmajid Bouchar, but in court she declared that the person she saw was Jamal Zougam. She declared that it was Zougam who got off the train beside her at the station of Entrevias and asked her if the next station was Atocha. The witness claimed that she had originally wrongly identified the man as being Bouchar because she was nervous after the attacks.

The last witness to appear was Manuel Rodríguez Simons, the head of security for Renfe, the national train company. He stated that it was possible for those placing the bombs to have changed trains, meaning that the same person could possibly have placed bombs on different trains. The difference in departure times from Alcalá de Henares of the four trains carrying bombs was just 13 minutes between the earliest and the latest. This witness was also asked about images collected by security cameras in the affected stations, and testified that only those installed in Atocha recorded the images they collected. The cameras in other stations were there only to assist the driver and station staff in checking the platform at the moment of arriving or leaving the station. He testified that the images recorded in Atocha were handed to the police. The witness declared that prior to the bombings they had not taken into account this kind of attack. They worked on security around the kind of attacks committed by ETA, who normally advised when they had placed bombs. He said that in 100 ETA actions in Renfe installations, there were only two cases where prior warning had not been given.

With the changes in testimony it is difficult to see the court placing too much weight on the witness identifications on the trains. Even if they are correct, the differences with initial declarations to the police inevitably cast doubt on them. Jamal Zougam has now been identified as being on three different trains, which may be possible but leaves unknown details on how the bombs were transported if they were not all unloaded at Alcalá. Basel Ghalyoun has avoided positive identification as a result of a witness changing evidence, this is not the only evidence against him but there is a big difference between being accused of collaborating and being accused of actually placing the bombs on the trains.

El Mundo - first 3 witnesses
El Mundo - Ibrahim Afalah
El Mundo - A-27
El Mundo - B-78
El Mundo - Zougam witnesses
El Mundo - Renfe security chief