MADRID, Spain – A judge charged three Moroccans with at least 190 counts of murder in last week's Spanish train bombings and ordered them and two Indians jailed Friday pending an investigation that could last two years, a court official said.
The judge's decision, which stops short of a formal indictment, is the first indication the government has strong evidence linking the Moroccans to the worst terror attack in Spain's history. The March 11 attacks killed 202 people.
During an all-night, closed-courtroom session, the five denied any connections to the bombings, saying they were sleeping at the time of the attacks, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Suspicion for the bombings has centered on Moroccan extremists said to be linked to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network. In an unauthenticated videotape, a man claiming to speak for Al Qaeda said the group carried out the attack in reprisal for Spain's backing of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The five suspects denied having links to Al Qaeda, the official said.
Key suspect Jamal Zougam (search), a Moroccan, stared down and wept during the hearing, while another Moroccan suspect, Mohamed Bekkali (search), shouted: "I am innocent! I am innocent!" during his arrival, the court official said.
The third Moroccan suspect is Mohamed Chaoui (search), according to authorities in that country. Chaoui told the judge he had few contacts with Zougam, his half-brother, whom he described as deeply religious.
The Moroccans were charged with 190 killings, 1,400 attempted killings, and membership in a terrorist group, the official said after the hearing before National Court Judge Juan del Olmo.
The killings charges reflect the number of bodies identified so far. The attempted killings charges are based on the number of people injured by the morning rush-hour blasts.
The Moroccan trio had originally been accused only of falsification charges when they were arrested March 13, two days after the bombings.
The El Pais newspaper reported Friday that police searching the telephone services shop where Zougam and Bekkali worked found a piece of a cell phone used in a backpack bomb left on a train. The bomb did not explode and the cell phone, which apparently was set to connect to a detonator, was recovered and analyzed, the newspaper reported, citing police sources.
The two Indians, identified by Spanish authorities as Vinay Kohly (search) and Suresh Kumar (search), were charged with collaborating with a terrorist group and falsifying a sales document while committing fraud, the court official said without elaborating. They also were detained March 13.
The judge's decision to charge the five means they can be held for two years while investigators gather evidence. The judge can then extend the detention for another two years.
All five men were barred from contact with lawyers and family.
Five other suspects — including several Moroccans — remain detained since the bombings, which propelled Spain's Socialist Party to an upset victory over the right-of-center Popular Party four days later.
Opponents of the Popular Party and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (search) argued that his government made the country a target for terrorists by supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq despite opposition from the vast majority of Spaniards.
The ruling came a day after the government declassified 24 pages of intelligence documents to counter accusations it misled the public immediately after the bombings by insisting that the Basque separatist group ETA, and not Al Qaeda, was its prime suspect.
"They will clear up any doubt about the information government had on those days," said Eduardo Zaplana, a spokesman for the National Intelligence Center.
The death toll in the Spain bombings matches that from the October 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, making them the deadliest terror attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
Five suspects, including at least two Moroccans, were arrested Thursday. The Moroccans reportedly include Mohamed Chedadi, the brother of Said Chedadi, an alleged Al Qaeda operative arrested in 2001. One of the five holds a Spanish passport.
A French private investigator researching the Sept. 11 attacks for lawyers representing victims' families identified one suspect as Saad Houssaini, a Moroccan. His name has been mentioned in a judge's probe of Al Qaeda operations in Spain.
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported Thursday that Houssaini was among as many as 20 people Spanish police were searching for in connection with the Madrid attack.
Also, a suspect with Spanish citizenship was arrested in the Asturias region in northern Spain, a mining region, for investigation of the robbery of explosives, police said.
Police believe the suspect may have been directly involved in the Madrid bombings and the May 2003 suicide attacks that killed 33 people and 12 bombers in Casablanca, Morocco, said radio station Cadena Ser.
In Belgium, authorities said Friday they arrested another suspect in connection with the Casablanca bombings.