Twenty-one out of 28 defendants in the Madrid train bombings' case were convicted today in Madrid for the slaughter of nearly 200 people on March, 11, 2004.
Three of the eight main suspects - Emilio Trashorras, a Spaniard, and Jamal Zougam and Othman el-Gnaoui, both Moroccans - received sentences of nearly 40,000 years each. Under Spanish law, however, they can only serve a maximum of 40 years.
Four other lead defendants - Youssef Belhadj, Hassan el Haski, Abdulmajid Bouchar and Rafa Zouhier - were acquitted of murder but convicted of lesser charges including belonging to a terrorist group or trafficking in weapons. Fourteen other people were found guilty of lesser charges such as belonging to a terrorist group.
But one of the alleged masterminds, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, was acquitted on all charges. He is currently serving an 8-year sentence in Italy for belonging to a terrorist organization.
The verdicts underscore the difficulty of building a solid legal case against defendants suspected of playing an inspirational role in a diffuse and nonhierarchical network, rather than having direct involvement in the violence.
The verdicts also seem to clear the ETA, a Basque separatist group, of any involvement in the atrocity. After the Madrid train bombing, then prime minister José María Aznar blamed ETA for the attack. Three days after, Aznar, a conservative, was defeated in the general election by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a socialist, who pledged to withdrawal Spanish troops from Iraq and did.
The attacks, then and now, are seen as punishment for Spain's involvement in the Iraq War and the predominate reason why Spanish voters decided to elect Zapatero instead of Aznar.