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Madrid bombings: Indictments soon

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

The rush-hour attacks killed 191 people.


Madrid (Spain)

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- With the second anniversary of the deadly Madrid train bombings nearing, the judge investigating the case is close to issuing indictments against possibly as many as 40 suspects, court sources and several lawyers told CNN.

The March 11, 2004 terrorist attacks killed 191 people and wounded 1,741 others when the near simultaneous bombings went off on four Madrid morning rush-hour commuter trains.

A total of 116 suspects, many of them Moroccans, have been charged in the case, and 24 of these remain in Spanish prisons; another suspect is in prison in Italy. The rest are out of jail, but many have restrictions placed on them, such as having their passports withheld by authorities, the National Court spokeswoman said.

Court sources have said perhaps 30 to 40 suspects, out of the total 116, might be indicted when Judge Juan del Olmo makes his decision. The indictments are expected by later this month and a trial would follow, but still be months away.

Authorities have blamed Islamic terrorists for the coordinated bombing attacks against the four trains.

The most serious charges -- against a small number of suspects thought to have been directly involved in the bombings -- are for the totality of all the murders or attempted murders in the attacks, in addition to causing damage to the four trains, the sources said.

Although authorities say many of the details about the attacks are known -- such as where the explosives were stolen and where the bombs were assembled -- the indictments are expected to reveal more information, including possibly identifying the suspected mastermind behind the attacks.

The second anniversary of the attacks, next Saturday, is expected to receive a more subdued commemoration than last year, when there were numerous high-profile events, government sources told CNN.

The only major event publicly scheduled so far is a memorial concert on Friday in the National Auditorium, Madrid's main symphony concert hall. The Victims of Terrorism Foundation has organized the event, titled "Madrid - London, in Memoriam," a reference also to the terrorist attacks in London last July. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia are due to attend, according to the Royal Palace's official agenda.

To date, only one person -- then 16-years-old -- has been convicted in the attacks. He was the only minor charged in the case, and in November 2004, the youth pleaded guilty to transporting explosives stolen from a mine in northern Spain, and of collaborating with a terrorist group.

The youth, whose identity was not made public, was sentenced to six years of juvenile confinement and five years of probation after that.

Last week, Judge del Olmo, the investigating magistrate in charge of the case, ordered that nine of the adult suspects, who have spent almost two years in pre-trial prison, be brought to the National Court in central Madrid for hearings on the prosecutor's request to prolong their time in jail until the trial.

Spanish law sets a maximum of two years of pre-trial prison confinement, which can be extended after hearings.

A CNN correspondent observed from the hallway outside the judge's chambers last Wednesday as some of the most notorious suspects were brought in, handcuffed, and flanked by police officers.

These included Moroccan-born Jamal Zougam, who investigators say is linked to the cell phones used as timer-detonators in the bombs. Zougam looked up briefly at observers but said nothing as he was led into the judge's chambers for a 50-minute hearing. Sources said he again denied involvement in the attacks.

Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard who is suspected of helping other suspects obtain stolen explosives for the attacks from a mine in northern Spain, also was led in by police. His lawyer later told reporters that Suarez, one of the few Spanish-born suspects charged in the bombings, has suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia and should be released.

Another suspect, Moroccan-born Rafa Zouhier, suspected of involvement in the stolen explosives, said "Good morning to everyone" as he was led into the judge's chambers, and when he walked out, he told observers, "Everything will be fine."

Seven key suspects in the case are dead. They blew themselves up on April 3, 2004, three weeks after the train bombings, as police closed in on their hideout in the Madrid southern suburb of Leganes. A police special operations officer was killed in that blast, which tore a gaping hole in the apartment building, and 18 other police officers were wounded.

Judge Del Olmo was on the scene of the train bombings shortly after the attacks. Television footage that day showed him at one of the key bombing sites, of the train struck near Tellez street, just beyond the main Atocha train station, where another train was bombed. The other two trains were bombed at two other smaller stations, leading to Atocha.

In the nearly two years of the investigation, which now includes 80,000 pages of court documents, there have been 12 investigative commissions seeking evidence in Italy, France, Algeria, Morocco, Belgium, Libya, Britain, and Serbia, the National Court spokeswoman said.

Authorities have performed 200 DNA tests, including for each of the 116 suspects charged and also on the seven key suspects who killed themselves in Leganes, and there have also been more than 50,000 searches of telephone call registries, the court spokeswoman said.

At least 96 defense lawyers are involved in the case, in addition to 23 lawyers for the plaintiffs, which is allowed under Spanish law as a parallel prosecution to the state prosecutor.

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