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Trial opens for 9 suspected militants in Spain

By Al Goodman, CNN
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutors allege the group was planning large-scale attacks
  • All 9 defendants pleaded innocent at the start of the trial
  • Islamist militants were convicted in the 2004 train bombings in Spain
  • 191 people were killed in the 2004 attacks

Madrid (CNN) -- Nine suspected Islamist militants went on trial in Madrid Tuesday, charged with plotting terrorist attacks in two Spanish enclaves on Morocco's north coast just across the Mediterranean Sea from the Spanish mainland.

The attacks never occurred, as police made arrests in December 2006 of the alleged gang in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, which has a population of about 77,000, including some 40% who are Muslims.

Prosecutor Carlos Bautista alleges the defendants constituted a terrorist group. He seeks sentences of eight years in prison for seven of the defendants, and sentences of up to 11 years for the two other defendants, who face additional charges of robbery and forgery.

All the defendants pleaded innocent at the start of the trial at Spain's National Court. Five have a well-known Madrid defense lawyer and the other four have court-appointed lawyers.

The trial was not held in a high-security courtroom with bulletproof glass -- like some previous terrorism trials -- although various uniformed and plainclothes police officers monitored the defendants.

All the defendants arrived at court on their own, except for one, who was being held on other charges and entered the courtroom in handcuffs.

"This has been a nightmare," defendant Mohamed Fuad Abdeselam, a 40-year-old social worker, told CNN outside the courtroom just before the trial began.

The father of five said he was arrested in front of his ailing father in a hospital and spent two years in preventative prison before being released on bail.

He denied all the charges.

But in the courtroom, the prosecutor called Fuad to the stand first, as an alleged ringleader of the group.

Under oath, Fuad denied supplying radical jihadi videos to other defendants, denied that he wanted a moderate imam at the local mosque replaced with a more radical imam, and denied knowing anything about a bulletproof vest and a large machete, which were among items police seized.

The prosecutor's charge sheet, viewed by CNN, said the group planned large-scale attacks in Ceuta and the nearby Spanish enclave of Melilla, had a plot to steal explosives from a local military base, and had photographs of the busy passenger ferry that links Ceuta to the Spanish mainland.

Spanish police have sharply increased the number of officers fighting Islamic terrorism since the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.

Spanish courts already have convicted 14 Islamist militants for their roles in the train bombings, along with four Spaniards convicted for trafficking in explosives used in the attacks.

Additionally, seven other prime Islamic suspects in the attacks blew themselves up three weeks after the train bombings as police closed in on their hideout in a Madrid suburb. That explosion also killed a police officer and wounded several other people.

Since then, police have arrested alleged members of various other suspected Islamic militant cells, including the group now on trial in Madrid.

The investigation against them began in 2005. A total of 11 suspects were arrested in the December 2006 raids -- when police also seized forged documents, computers and an air pistol. But charges were later dropped against two of them.

The trial is expected to last eight days.

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