Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Focus Shifts To Morocco

Three separate stories connected to those accused of involvement in the Madrid bombings have made the news in recent weeks; and they all have a Moroccan connection. Several weeks ago Hassan el Haski, sentenced in the Madrid trial for membership of a terrorist organisation, was handed over to the Moroccan authorities to face trial over charges that he particpated in the Casablanca bombings in 2003. El Haski was said by the prosecution in Madrid to be a leading member of the Morrocan Islamic Combat Group.

Then last week saw the sentence in the case against Hicham Ahmidan, a cousin of Jamal Ahmidan - one of the principal leaders of the group that carried out the Madrid bombings. Hicham was found guilty by a Moroccan court of being involved in the preparation of the Madrid attacks and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The prosecution had requested a 20 year sentence. Ahmidan was already serving a sentence in Morocco for drugs related offences and was said by the Spanish investigating magistrate to have left Spain days before the train bombings took place. Morocco does not extradite its own citizens, and for this reason Ahmidan was tried in his home country rather than in Spain.

Finally, the trial of Abdelilah Hriz also saw its preliminary hearing in Salé this week. Hriz is one of those who were not captured in the intiial aftermath of the bombings, but whose DNA has been detected in key sites related to the Madrid attacks. He is regarded as being potentially one of the group who actually carried out the bombings. His trial has been deferred for 2 weeks at the request of the defence to have more time to prepare their case.

READ MORE IN ENGLISH: - Spain approves train bomber extradition to Morocco
International Herald Tribune - Moroccan sentenced over links to Madrid bombings

Público - España concede a Marruecos la extradición de El Haski, condenado por el 11-M
Europa Press - Condenado en Marruecos a Hicham Ahmidan por su implicación en el 11-M
Europa Press - 11-M.- Manjón denuncia que "al hijo de 'El Chino' le besan los pies en la mezquita de la M-30 por ser hijo de un mártir"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

El Egipcio Loses His Italian Appeal

The beginning of October saw a development which has an impact on the trial for the Madrid bombings. Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed (nicknamed El Egipcio) had his sentence for membership of a terrorist group confirmed by the Italian courts. Although many people believe that El Egipcio was completely absolved in the trial held in Madrid, it’s important to point out that his Italian conviction was the reason why no sentence at all was delivered against him in Spain. He was found not guilty in Madrid of the charges of inducing others to commit terrorist acts, and the court decided that they could not sentence him for membership of a terrorist group because the Italians had already done so. In the appeals process following the main trial it was argued that the charge against El Egipcio in Spain was not exactly the same as that in the Italian case and that the Italian verdict was not a firm one, leaving open the possibility of him escaping conviction there too. These arguments were not accepted by the Spanish appeals court, who ruled that the Italian sentence precluded any possibility of finding El Egipcio guilty on a similar charge. The main evidence against him in the Spanish trial was that gathered by Italian police using electronic surveillance.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Appeals Against The Sentence

In between the hearings and the verdict of the boric acid case, the Supreme Court in Spain heard all of the appeals concerning the sentence in the main trial for the Madrid train bombings. The outcome of those appeals has been announced this morning and contains some significant rulings for several of the accused. In the Spanish legal system an appeal cannot be lodged to re-examine the evidence presented in the original trial. Instead the appeal is focused on the correctness of the sentence for the crime, or on other legal technicalities.

The state prosecution service did not support most of the appeals presented, and the case they presented to the Supreme Court was mostly one of support for the sentence delivered at the end of October 2007. An important exception to this was the appeal against the absolution of Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed (known as El Egipcio). This person escaped a sentence last year for membership of a terrorist group on the grounds that he had already been sentenced for the same offence in Italy. The prosecution appealed this verdict on the basis that the sentence in Italy had not yet been confirmed, and also alleging that the basis for the Italian conviction was not the same as that presented by Spanish prosecutors. The court today has rejected this appeal, so El Egipcio has in the end not been convicted of any offence in Spain.

The Supreme Court has also decided to free some of those convicted in the original trial for offences related to terrorism. Basel Ghalyoun, Mouhannad Almallah Dabas, Abdelilah el Fadoual el Akil and Raúl González have all been absolved in today’s hearing. None of these were accused of being direct material participants in the bombings; González in particular was a bit player in the trafficking of the explosives used in the bombs. However, the freeing of Ghalyoun and Almallah Dabas is something of a blow to the case presented concerning the use of the dwelling in the Madrid street of Virgen del Coro as a centre for Islamist propaganda and recruitment.

The only person to come out worse from the appeals process is Antonio Toro, who was found not guilty in the original trial, along with his sister Carmen. Both were accused of being active participants in the plot to sell the dynamite used in the train bombings. The Supreme Court has found Antonio Toro guilty of explosives trafficking and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. There has been no change to the sentence for Rafa Zouhier, his defence claimed it was illogical for him to be sentenced whilst people like Toro were found not guilty. Those who appealed for a higher sentence for him argued the opposite case that he was a key figure in the trafficking and supply of the explosives.

Other minor changes include a reduction of two years for Otman el Gnaoui, who nevertheless faces a long time in prison as he was convicted of being one of those who placed the bombs. Hassan el Haski has had his sentence reduced by one year on the grounds that it exceeded the maximum for the offence on which he was convicted. Apart from these changes the great majority of the appeals lodged have been rejected by the court. So far I haven’t seen the sentence, when I have a chance to study it I hope to flesh out some of the details behind the court’s decisions. Although these hearings are the end of the process against most of those accused of the bombings, there is still some unfinished business including the trial of Moutaz Almallah Dabas, whose brother Mouhannad was set free today.

El País - El Supremo confirma la absolución de El Egipcio por la matanza del 11-M
Público - El Supremo confirma la absolución de 'El Egipcio' en el juicio por los atentados del 11-M

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another Nail In The Coffin

Yesterday we got the verdict in the trial of the four senior police officers accused of falsifying a forensic report concerning the discovery of boric acid at the home of Hassan el Haski. Sanity prevailed, and the ridiculous charges were dismissed in a verdict that makes it absolutely clear no crime was committed. Just as they did with the sentence in the main trial for the Madrid train bombings, the conspiracy theorists pick at the wording of the verdict to see if there is anything there which they can twist in an effort to get some consolation from yet another blow to their attempts to cast doubt on the authorship of their bombings. From yesterday’s decision they have inevitably picked up on the view of the judges that the way in which the report was altered was irregular. This of course is a long way from saying that any offence has been committed, but the conspiracy theorist media use this conclusion to try and suggest that they have been at least partially vindicated. What they seek to avoid above all is any kind of admission that they may ever have been wrong in urging the conviction of the officers concerned.

The problem with their conclusion is that the court did not find any irregularity at all in the removal of the paragraphs concerning the finding of boric acid in an ETA safe house and the attempt to link this to the discovery in El Haski's house. It is this section of the report which is at the heart of the whole controversy. What the judges said was that the correct way to have proceeded would have been to assign a fresh report to another specialist, rather than the superior officer changing the original one himself. The omission of the data relating to ETA is not only not considered irregular, the verdict actually explains in considerable detail why this data was irrelevant to the purpose of the report. The judges make clear that they regard the section as unfounded speculation, lacking in scientific rigour and which could only produce confusion. After all, this document was supposed to be a forensic analysis of the substance found, boric acid, this was what was requested by the investigating officers from their forensic colleagues. If the accused had attempted to change the results of the chemical analysis then there would be cause for concern, but this is not what happened. The judges also pointed out in their reasoning the total lack of any evidence relating boric acid to any past terrorist activity and that the inclusion of the references to previous discoveries of this substance added nothing at all to the investigation of the Madrid bombings. The verdict describes it as complementary information of little or no value.

Naturally none of the pro-conspiracy theory media sees any need to report such damning conclusions for yet another of their attempts to mix ETA with the bombings. TeleMadrid yesterday demonstrated how painful it is to recognise reality by focusing its report entirely on the question of the supposed irregularities. El Mundo takes the manipulation a stage further than Telemadrid. Their edition this morning carried a headline that is not just manipulation of the verdict, it is manifestly false. They claim that the forensic police have been accused of being untruthful by the court in order to avoid linking ETA to the bombings. The word that appears in quotes in their headline, “inveraz”, doesn’t actually appear at all in the document of the verdict although El Mundo attempts to pretend it is citing that source. The only point at which the verdict questions the truthfulness of what was done is over the issue of one of the accused putting his name on the report for an analysis which he hadn’t carried out himself. The verdict itself makes clear that this is not that unusual a practice, and given that the officer concerned accepted the findings of the original chemical analysis there was no reason for him to repeat it. From such tiny crumbs El Mundo attempts to deceive its readers about what has really happened. Not surprising, because the whole sorry, crazy affair began with them.

The verdict of the court
El Mundo - La Policía Científica fue 'inveraz' para no vincular a ETA con el 11-M
El País - Los policías no cometieron falsedad; las modificaciones eran "inocuas"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Too Much Acid Damages The Brain

One of the most bizarre and ridiculous creations of those behind the conspiracy theories about the Madrid bombings has returned to haunt us, several months after the end of the trial. The case against several senior senior police officers accused of manipulating official reports began yesterday in Madrid. The background to this trial begins with a police report produced following the search of the residence of Hassan el Haski, one of those sentenced in the main trial last year. The police report focused on the finding of a quantity of boric acid in El Haski's home. The "specialists" preparing the report did some investigation in their databases and found that the same substance had also previously been recovered from a house used by an ETA commando and in a case concerning what the Spanish press refer to as an "anti-system" activist. There was no relationship between the different cases, and more importantly there is no evidence linking the presence of boric acid to the activities of any of those detained. Boric acid is sold openly and legally over the counter in Spain for a variety of uses including reduction of foot odour and killing cockroaches.

Despite the absence of any data linking the different cases the initial report produced by the police attempted to suggest that there could be a connection between the finding of boric acid in El Haski's home, and in that used some years earlier by the ETA commando. This speculative piece of guesswork was removed from the final report on the orders of superior officers. It's not hard to find good motives for doing so, given the lack of any connection between a common household substance and terrorist activities. It is reasonably likely that coffee was also present in the residences searched in these different cases, but no one would have looked favourably at a report suggesting connections between Islamists and ETA just because of the discovery of that substance.

However, with the conspiracy theorists busily working to undermine the case against those accused of the bombings in 2006, strange things started to happen. The officers responsible for the original report oddly decided to try and resubmit their original report over a year after it had first been prepared, speculative nonsense about boric acid included. The attempt failed, but the report then quickly found its way to El Mundo who immediately led in typical style with a story claiming that there were attempts to suppress evidence of ETA connections to the Madrid bombings. Supporters of the conspiracy theories then presented an accusation alleging falsification of official documentation against senior officers and managed to manoeuvre the handling of the case so that it would be dealt with by a judge in Madrid with known conservative sympathies.

The case has now come to court and will be tried even though the state prosecution service regards the accusation as completely unfounded. The accusation is instead being sustained by the usual suspects, pro conspiracy theory victims associations and their political allies. Anyone found guilty of the charges faces a potential prison sentence, yet it seems hard to believe that such an outcome is possible even with the known politicisation of the Spanish judicial system. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of judicial issues pile up in a system that is acknowledged to be failing to serve its purpose. Yet cases such as this one, which owe their existence solely to the determination of the conspiracy theorists to press anything that has even the most tenuous of connections to ETA, are allowed to proceed and clog up the courts.

El País - El policía que quitó las alusiones a ETA en un informe del 11-M dice que "eran absurdas"
El Mundo - Ramírez exculpa al comisario Santano y asume que alteró el informe del ácido bórico

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Abdelilah Hriz To Stand Trial

In my last post I wrote about efforts by the Spanish authorities to put Abdelilah Hriz on trial as a material author of the Madrid bombings. It now seems as if the Moroccan authorities have agreed to take action against Hriz - extradition is not permitted but he can be tried on Moroccan soil for crimes committed in Spain. Genetic traces matching the DNA of Hriz were found in the ruins of the apartment in Leganés where the nucleus of the group responsible for the bombings blew themselves up on the 3rd April 2004.

El País - Marruecos detiene e interroga a petición de España a un presunto autor material del 11M

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Accused But Not On Trial

Whilst the appeals following the sentence in the train bombings trial are now pending, it is worth recalling that there are still some accused of participation in the attack who have not yet faced trial. One of these, Moutaz Almallah Dabas, is being held on remand in Spain following his extradition from the United Kingdom last year. He is the brother of Mouhannad Almallah Dabas, who was one of those convicted in the main trial.

There is now concern about the delay in bringing Almallah Dabas to trial for his part in the bombings. This is because he has already been held in prison for around 3 years if the period in the UK is included too, and Spanish law does not permit anyone to be held for longer than 4 years if they have not been convicted of an offence within that period. So it seems quite likely that the trial of Almallah Dabas will be held reasonably soon to try and avoid a situation where he must be released from prison.

There are also international detention orders in force against Abdelilah Hriz (accused of being one of those who actively participated in the attack as a material author), and Hicham Ahmidan (accused of being part of the terrorist cell). Both of these are Morrocan citizens and are both currently in Morocco itself. This country does not extradite its citizens to Spain, so the Spanish authorities are attempting to persuade the Moroccan authorities to try them there for crimes committed on Spanish soil. In the meantime, the international orders remain in force in case either of the 2 men travels outside of Morocco.

El País - Un islamista del 11-M saldrá de la cárcel si no es juzgado en breve
El País - La Audiencia mantiene la orden internacional de captura de Hriz