MADRID, Spain – Al Qaeda's suspected leader in Spain denied that he was a follower of Usama bin Laden (search) in a second day of testimony Tuesday at his trial on charges he helped organize the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"I am not a follower of the theories of bin Laden," Imad Yarkas (search) told the court. "I have never seen him in my life."
He was responding to questions from prosecutor Pedro Rubira over a book and news clippings about the Al Qaeda (search) leader that were allegedly found in Yarkas's house in Madrid after his arrest in November 2001.
Asked about his understanding of the term "jihad," often translated as "holy war," Yarkas said that for him it meant "defending oneself." When Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez asked Yarkas if for him it meant "the use of force in legitimate defense," Yarkas nodded and said, "Legitimate defense, nothing else."
But he denied that he indoctrinated Muslims in radical Islam and sent them to fight alongside fellow Muslims in Bosnia and Chechnya (search). "I am not the kind to give classes," he said.
"If I said it was necessary to go, I would have to be the first one," Yarkas said.
On Monday, Yarkas denied having anything to do with the Sept. 11 attacks, which he called an act of "terrible savagery." Yarkas, the main suspect in Spain's case against Al Qaeda, described himself as a hardworking father of six who struggled to make ends meet.
He is charged with helping plot the Sept. 11 attacks by arranging a final planning meeting in Spain in July 2001 for a suspected suicide pilot and a coordinator of the attacks.
Yarkas is on trial with 23 other terror suspects — Europe's biggest court case against radical groups with alleged ties to bin Laden's terror network. If convicted, he faces a symbolic sentence of almost 75,000 years in prison — 25 years for each of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks in the United States.
Two alleged accomplices also face charges that they helped plot the attacks, and 21 others are charged with belonging to a terrorist group, illegal weapons possession and other offenses.
Yarkas denied charges he led a Madrid-based cell of radical Muslims with ties to Al Qaeda and set up a meeting for suspected suicide pilot Mohamed Atta (search) and reputed plot coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh (search).
Later Tuesday, after the prosecutor concluded his questioning, Yarkas underwent questioning by lawyers for other defendants — a procedure allowed in Spanish trials with multiple defendants — and said he knew all but two of the other 23 men on trial, most of Syrian or Moroccan origin.
Yarkas said he knew Mohamed Ghaleb Kalaje Zouaydi, suspected of being the Madrid cell's financial mastermind under the guise of running real estate companies, but only because they took their children to the same Muslim school at Madrid's largest mosque. Yarkas said his ties with other defendants were similar.
"It is the way we live," Yarkas said. He described Zouaydi as "a modern man, a very moderate Muslim" and said he knew nothing of his alleged money transfers to Muslim militants in other countries.