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Terror trial begins in Spain

By CNN's Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Under tight security, a terror trial for six Algerian men, one of whom is charged in an alleged failed plot to attack a U.S.-Spanish military base in southern Spain, began in the capital Monday.

The prosecution seeks a combined 132 years in prison for the six. All are charged with belonging to an Islamic terrorist group, possession of explosives and document forgery.

The trial before a three-judge panel started midmorning at the National Court in central Madrid.

The basement courtroom is layered with bulletproof glass, separating the court from the public and the defendants from the court.

First to testify was the man the prosecution alleges is the leader of the cell, Mohamed Tahraoui, 24, of Algeria -- a charge defense lawyer Sebastian Salellas has denied.

Tahraoui is the only one of the six charged in the alleged plot on the military base, Rota, near the Strait of Gibraltar, Salellas said.

At any given time, about 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed at Rota, a logistics base for the U.S. Sixth Fleet and Spain's principal naval base, home to its lone aircraft carrier, U.S. officials said.

The defendants were among 16 suspected Islamic extremists arrested in January 2003 near Barcelona. All of them were released after an initial analysis determined that the material they possessed was not bomb-making material, but cleaning detergent.

But after further investigation -- including an FBI analysis that the seized materials could be made into "homemade napalm" -- six of the 16 were re-arrested in 2004 and indicted, according to Salellas and to court documents viewed by CNN.

"For all of this, there should be no underestimating this new class of delinquency, its methods and its firm decision to attack human targets in a totally indiscriminate manner in any part of the world," Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon wrote in his April 2004 indictment of four of the defendants.

Two others were charged soon after under the same indictment, Salellas said.

The six are not charged in the Madrid train bombings of March 2004, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,700. The 29 defendants under indictment in that case are due to be tried early next year.

But the alleged leader of the six going on trial Monday, Tahraoui, had evidence in his home near Barcelona of a cell phone, and also of sketches of other cell phones, which appeared similar to cell phones that had been altered for use in the Madrid train bombings and in the al Qaeda attack in Bali in 2002 that killed 200 people, Garzon wrote in his April 2004 indictment.

Garzon said the suspects belonged to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which is linked to al Qaeda and is a spinoff of the main militant Islamic opposition group in Algeria.

In addition to Tahraoui, the defendants were identified as Smail Boudjelthi, 32; Ali Kaouka, 32; Mohamed Nebbar, 36 (the court has also spelled his last name as Nevar); Souhil Kaouka, 33, and Mohamed Amine Benaoura, 28.

In their hearings in 2004, the first four said they are innocent.

In one of Europe's largest terrorism trials to date, the National Court in Madrid in September 2005 convicted 18 of 24 defendants for al Qaeda and terrorism links, acquitting the other six.

But Spain's Supreme Court last June overturned three of the 18 convictions. It also overturned the conviction, from the same trial, of the Syrian-born, convicted leader of al Qaeda in Spain on a separate count of conspiracy in the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and cut 15 years from his 27-year sentence.

Separate from those trials, other Islamic extremists face trial in Spain on charges of involvement in a failed alleged plot to blow up the National Court, where Monday's terrorism trial is slated to be held.


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