Friday, April 20, 2007

The Trial....Day 26, April 17th

Another impressively long list of witnesses for this day. Testimony is not necessarily in order of appearance as I try to make sense of this sudden and unexpected increase in judicial productivity.

The Renault Kangoo
The first witness to appear was José Garzón Gómez, owner of the Renault Kangoo van found in Alcalá de Henares and alleged to have been used by the bombers to carry the bombs to this town. The witness testified that his van was stolen either on the 27th or 28th February 2004, and that he reported the theft to the police. He said he had personal effects in the van and that these were returned to him together with the van after the bombings. On the 11th March he was visited by the police, and he was shown objects recovered from the van on the 12th and asked to confirm whether they were his. The witness testified that amongst the possessions returned was a tape in Arabic which did not belong to him, he returned it a few days later to the investigating magistrate.

Workers in the Conchita Mine
Daniel Fernández Fernández worked in the Mina Conchita, from where the explosives used in the bombs are said to have been stolen. He declared that detonators were stored in containers that were accessible to anyone who knew where the keys were kept, and that unused dynamite was left in the open air. He stated that one Monday in January 2004 he noticed that some boxes of explosive that had been there on the preceding Friday had vanished, he advised the mine guard about this. Another witness who had worked in the mine was José Ángel Morán Suárez, who declared that he worked there until the mine closed. He said that he occasionally saw police officers at the mine, and that at night there was no guard present. He knew nothing about the missing boxes mentioned by Daniel Fernández. The witness said that unused dynamite was not returned and that it was possible for full boxes to have been left in the open air.

Conrado Pérez Tronco began working in Mina Conchita 20 years ago, in the last few years he worked as a guard, passing to another mine after Conchita was closed. He said that he patrolled the mine daily, and that during 2003 and 2004 the Guardia Civil were there twice. This witness had no control over the use of explosives and what remained unused, this was the job of Emilio Llano, brother-in-law of the witness.

Another former worker in the mine, Manuel González Garcia said that he would normally ask the guard for the keys to the stores where detonators were kept, and these keys would normally be left there. He would leave any remains of explosive near to where he had been working and had seen boxes of dynamite often left by the entrance to where they worked. He declared that unused detonators were also left outside, and that the mine guard did not control the amount used by each miner.

Another witness connected to those accused of supplying the explosives was Roberto López Fernández, a friend of Emilio Suárez Trashorras. He also worked at the Mina Conchita from where the explosives are said to have been stolen. He declared that he had no responsibility for applying security regulations in the mine, he was only involved in technical tasks. The witness said that the mine closed after the bombings because it was no longer economically viable. He stated that he never saw explosives left in the open air at the mine, although they were left in the galleries. The witness was present during a Guardia Civil inspection of the mine in 2003, although it was the mine guard who accompanied the officers during the inspection. During an inspection after the attacks, in July 2004, some explosive and detonators were discovered outside of the designated stores.

Following López came Juventino Pérez Tronco, also a brother-in-law of Emilio Llano. He declared that he worked in Mina Conchita until shortly before the attacks. He testified on the difficulty of controlling the amount of explosive used by each miner. He said that he never saw the Guardia Civil inspecting inside the mine. Antonio Riesgos Suárez declared after Pérez, he said that he began working in Mina Conchita in 1988. Each day he would ask for the explosive he thought he needed, and said that nobody took note of this. He declared that everybody would leave excess dynamite near to where they had been working, as well as detonators. The rules only changed after the train bombings.

Ricardo Gutiérrez Sepúlveda knew Antonio Toro from a company where he had worked. He testified that Toro presented him to Rafa Zouhier in a Madrid discotheque Toro told him nothing about the reason for his visit to Madrid. He said that on the 11th March 2004 he was in Madrid with Toro. He testified that he never heard anything about hashish trafficking or any mention that the Moroccans could have been responsible for the bombings.

The following witness, Emilio Fernández Álvarez, was the administrator in 2004 of the company owning the Mina Conchita, Caolines de Merillés. He is now retired, although he spent more than 40 years as administrator of the company. He stated that the company was never penalised for any offence, and that the Guardia Civil inspected the mine when it suited them to do so and without prior notice. He could not say how many times they visited in 2003 and 2004. He said the mine closed when it was no longer profitable to keep it open. He confirmed that the mine used Goma 2 explosive.

After Fernández came another employee of the same company, Jorge Luis de la Torre González. In 2004 he was a senior administrator of the company, and as a result of the bills provided by the seller of the explosives used in the mine he was able to monitor the overall usage. He said that he noticed no change in explosives usage around the time of the train attacks, the company was using between 1200-1500 kilos of dynamite every month. The witness testified that the Guardia Civil would not advise about their inspections in advance. He declared that after the attacks the way in which explosives usage was calculated changed. This witness was one of the company representatives who met with the police in the aftermath of the train bombings. He said they asked questions about the organisation of the company and about security in the mines. He also stated that they provided the police with a list of current and former workers in the mines.

Beatriz Higuera Caldeiro was the owner of a Toyota car that was supposedly stolen on the 5th March 2003, a theft which was reported to the police. This car was allegedly used by Emilio Suárez Trashorras and later by Jamal Ahmidam, a fine related to the car has been recorded in the name of Youssef ben Salah; a false identity used by Ahmidam. The witness from the Guardia Civil, identified by police number D-25310-Q, testified on reports forming part of the judicial indictment. The witness testified on the explosives issue, stating that the lack of control on the identification of dynamite cartridges made it difficult to be sure exactly which mine the explosives came from. On the detonators found in the ruins of the Leganés apartment it was easier because almost the entire batch had been provided to Mina Conchita.

The Al-Qaeda Connection

Imad Edinn Barakat Yardas is more commonly referred to as Abu Dadah, and is said to be a leader of Al-Qaeda in Europe. He is currently in jail because of a conviction for belonging to a terrorist organisation. The witness said that he was not surprised by the Madrid bombings and that he saw them as a response to the invasion of Iraq. He denied knowing any of those alleged to have been the “intellectual authors” of the bombings, Youssef Belhadj, Hassan el Haski, and Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed. On the claim of responsibility made for the bombings in the name of the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades, the witness declared that he only knew of this name via the media. He stated the same about the Morrocan Islamic Combat Group.

Abu Dadah did acknowledge knowing Mouhannad Almallah Dabas from some work the latter had done for him, although he denied having met Moutaz Almallah Dabas, Mouhannad’s brother, in London. He also declared that he knew Serhane ben Abdelmajid by sight from the mosque that both men attended. He denied any knowledge of the property in the Madrid street of Virgen del Coro, alleged to have been used for radical Islamist meetings. He also denied knowing Fouad el Morabit, Basel Ghalyoun or Jamal Ahmidam. He said that he knew Jamal Zougam and that he knew about the telephone shop he ran. The witness said that he believed the Madrid bombings were carried out by followers of the Takfir sect. He testified that he did not know anyone who followed this sect.

Friends or Workmates of the Accused
Rubén Iglesias Díaz declared in court that he knew Emilio Suárez Trashorras through hashish deals, and that he was told by Trashorras at the end of February 2004 that some North Africans were going to arrive in Asturias with a hashish consignment. On the 28th February he got in touch with Trashorras about this supposed delivery. He said that he knew that Trashorras dealt in hashish for some time before the bombings.

Cristina Martín Olivera testified that she had a relationship with Rafa Zouhier, although she denied being his girlfriend. She declared that she saw Zouhier with an injured hand and that Zouhier told her it was because something had blown up, but that he never explained what it was. She testified that after the bombings Zouhier was worried about Arabs being arrested.

Mohamed el Idrissi was a workmate of Mohamed Larbi ben Sellam, they worked together in a gardening company. The witness denied that Larbi had mentioned to him the possibility of going to Iraq and that he asked for money to help him get there. In his police declaration the witness had said the opposite.

The Victims Have Their Say

Juan Carlos Meco Peñalver travelled on the morning of the bombings on the train that left Alcalá de Henares at 7 a.m. He declared that he saw 3 men with rucksacks on the train, they looked as if they were waiting for someone. Later they changed to another coach on the train. The witness was still on this train when a bomb exploded at the station of Santa Eugenia. He identified Allekema Lamari from a photograph shown in court.

The next witness was the brother of Laura Vega, another victim of the bombings who was caught by one of the blasts as she changed trains at Atocha station in Madrid on her way to work in the city centre. Laura is alive but in a persistent vegetative state as a result of the multiple injuries she suffered in the train attacks. She needs constant attention as she is incapable of movement. Her brother testified on how their mother had stopped working and their father had changed to a post with less responsibility and more flexibility so that they can dedicate more time to their daughter. Apart from declaring on the impact of the bombings on the whole family, the witness also mentioned an intrusion of privacy by El Mundo, who took photographs of his sister without consent and published them on the 3rd anniversary of the bombings last month.

The following witness, Antonio Miguel Utrera Blanco, was another victim of the bombings. He was travelling on the train that exploded near the Calle Téllez, just outside of Atocha station. He was on his way to university on the morning of the 11th March. He said that after the explosion it was like a “dance of sleepwalkers” as those who were able to leave the train did so. He lay down on a concrete wall until being removed on a stretcher, after which he was unconscious for a period. His hearing has been severely affected by the bomb, and as a result of blood clots he has suffered from strokes which have left his face partially paralysed. He made a plea for maximum sentences for the perpetrators and for an assumption of political responsibility by the government at the time.

The wife of the next witness, Francisco Javier García Castro, was caught in an explosion at the station of El Pozo. She phoned her husband from there, asking him to come and collect her; he took the car and arrived at the scene 8 minutes later. He said that he saw many dead and wounded in the station as he searched for his wife. He said there was total silence, and he managed to help some people as he continued looking for his wife. She survived because she was in between two explosion sites, and jumped off the train after the first bomb exploded.

Isabel Casanova Ortega lost her son and her former husband in the train bombings; they were both in the train that exploded in the station of Santa Eugenia. That day was the birthday of her elder son and his father and brother would normally ring him on this anniversary, but that morning they received no calls. They received confirmation that both had been killed about 24 hours after the bombings. This witness also made a plea for long sentences for those responsible, as well as demanding the assumption of responsibility by those in power at the time.

Jesús Ramirez was severely wounded in the train that exploded at El Pozo. He was sitting in the centre of the upper deck of one of the two-tier carriages. There were two explosions and after the second he lost consciousness. He has undergone several operations and still carries shrapnel from the explosion in his body; he also continues to receive professional psychiatric treatment.

Also testifying was Eulogio Paz, the father of Daniel Paz Manjón who died in the bombings. He declared that as soon as he heard about the attack he phoned Daniel’s mother, Pilar Manjón. Then he tried to phone the mobile telephone number of his son, but there was no answer. He went to different hospitals as well as El Pozo station to try and find his son; finally he ended up at the IFEMA exhibition centre where the reception centre and emergency morgue had been set up. The following day he was advised by the police that they had found the body of his son and that they needed to confirm it with DNA tests. His son was cremated on the 17th March. Paz asked for heavy sentences for those responsible, as well as the assumption of political responsibilities. He said he was sure that the meeting in the Azores, attended by José Maria Aznar, George Bush and Tony Blair to discuss launching the invasion of Iraq, would bring consequences for Spain.

Footnote: The declarations of the victims caught the most attention on this day, with their vivid accounts of what it was like to be caught in the train bombings, or to be trying to find out information about someone who was unaccounted for. It doesn't even matter whether you share all of the opinions expressed, it has brought the reality of what happened into a court room where so much time is necessarily spent on details that do not really communicate the full horror of the day. The "chess players" behind the conspiracy theories were appalled by this testimony, because some of the victims did not hesitate to point the finger at Aznar's government. On the blog of Luis del Pino there were some truly repulsive comments made by those who always like to claim to be acting in the name of the victims. Apart from the testimony of the victims, the day provided plenty of further evidence on the lack of control in the mine where the explosives for the bombs are said to have been stolen. In a country where security on the use of explosives was supposedly tight to prevent ETA having easy access to them, it is very revealing just how ineffective this security was in reality.

ABC - Abu Dadah
ABC - The victims
El País - Abu Dadah
El País - The Victims
Datadiar - Summary of the day

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