Madrid: Families angry at terror verdicts


MADRID, Spain (AP) — They’d been longing for justice for more than three years and instead got what they call a gut punch of acquittals and convictions on lesser charges.

People who lost parents, children or spouses in the 2004 Madrid train bombings plan to appeal the verdicts and sentences handed down Wednesday by Spain’s National Court.

“It was like a slap in our face,” Jesus Abril, who lost his 19-year-old son Oscar, said of the verdicts.

Three Muslims were charged with masterminding the bombings of four crowded commuter trains at rush hour, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800. None was convicted of the main charge of mass murder, and one was acquitted altogether.

Two of those alleged ringleaders and two others also facing murder charges were convicted of the lesser charge of belonging to a terrorist organization. Rather than sentences of nearly 38,000 years as sought by prosecutors, some got terms of 12 years. And of nine Spaniards charged with supplying stolen dynamite for the attack in exchange for drugs and cash, five walked free. Altogether, of 28 people tried, seven were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Abril, a 54-year-old former teacher, attended each of the 58 trial sessions, and was in court to hear the verdicts. He and others whose loved ones died in the maelstrom of explosions and burning metal on March 11, 2004, said they could not believe the decisions read by Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez.

“Some of us were crying, hysterical, angry. Others were speechless,” Abril said Thursday. “The general response was to think how easy, how cheap it is to kill in Spain.”

Abril represents the March 11 Association of Terrorism Victims. Its president, Pilar Manjon, whose 20-year-old son was killed in the bombings, the verdicts and sentences weak.

“I don’t like it that murderers are going free,” she said Wednesday.

The verdicts returned by the three-judge panel said the Muslim suspects who stood trial, along with seven purported ringleaders who blew themselves up to avoid arrest, wanted to wage holy war.

It described the plotters as “members of terrorist groups or cells which … through the use of violence in all of its manifestations, seek to topple democratic regimes and eliminate the Christian-Western culture, replacing it with an Islamic state under the rule of the sharia, or Islamic law, in its most radical, extreme and minority interpretation.”

Under Spanish law, Manjon’s association was able to take part in the judicial probe and trial in a sort of friend-of-the-court capacity. It plans to appeal at least some of the verdicts to the Supreme Court.

The association will study the 700-page ruling with lawyers and decide what specific decisions to appeal, Abril said.

“Some of the suspects, who we thought would get the maximum punishment, received sentences that are just short of laughable,” he said.

He added, however, that the survivors feel lucky to have even seen the case go to trial and end in some convictions. “Other victims of terrorist attacks and in other countries don’t have this,” Abril said.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba defended the verdict, but said he understands if victims feel shortchanged and want to appeal.

“The courts have made an effort to do their job, which is to offer victims some kind of reparation, because unfortunately at this time there is little else we can offer,” he said.

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