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Aznar to testify at Madrid probe

From Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

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One of six images published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who was in power last March 11 when terrorist bombs blew apart four Madrid commuter trains and killed 191 people, will be called to testify at a parliamentary commission investigating the attacks.

Aznar, whose conservative Popular Party was ousted in national elections just three days after the bombings, will be the highest profile figure at the commission, which began last July and has heard from more than 20 witnesses and experts.

The political parties participating in the commission met in a closed-door session of Parliament on Wednesday and decided unanimously to seek Aznar's testimony, Paulino Rivero, president of the commission, said at nationally-televised news conference after the meeting.

No date was announced for Aznar's testimony. Political analysts in Spain have speculated it would not occur before the Popular Party's annual convention in early October.

The commission has already heard from top police officials and intelligence experts, who have offered sometime conflicting testimony on the investigation into the bombings.

The bombings killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.

Of 55 people charged in the bombings, 17 remain in jail, and many are Moroccans. Those who have been released face lesser charges. No trials have been set.

On Tuesday, Spain's largest-circulation newspaper, El Pais, published the six photographs from a security video showing the initial terrifying seconds after the explosions. (Full story)

The Interior Ministry told CNN it was surprised at the publication because the photographs remain under judicial seal as part of the investigation.

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Aznar was a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The decision Wednesday to call Aznar and several other experts to testify could prolong the commission's work for weeks if not months, a parliamentary aide said.

Aznar's government insisted, starting on March 11 and leading up to the March 14 elections, that the Basque separatist group ETA was the prime suspect behind the bombings, even as evidence mounted that Islamic terrorists were behind Spain's deadliest terrorist attack.

Aznar's Interior Minister, Angel Acebes, in July spent hours testifying before the commission, insisting that the former conservative government had not misled the public by insisting that ETA was a prime suspect just before the elections.

Other experts have testified that Spain had warnings it would be targeted by Islamic terrorists, particularly because of Aznar's staunch support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Aznar even sent Spanish troops to Iraq, but they were ordered back home as soon as the new Socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, took office last April.

The commission's final conclusions will include its assessment of what occurred before the bombings and right afterward, and it will also offer recommendations to the government on how to improve security in Spain, Rivero said.


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