MADRID, Spain – An alleged Al Qaeda (search) militant cried Wednesday after taking the stand on charges that he belonged to a cell accused of helping plot the Sept. 11 attacks, and he said he had testified in Spain under duress.
Abdulla Khayata Katan (search), a 29-year-old Spaniard of Syrian origin, denied any wrongdoing and said he was abused and humiliated at a Jordanian jail before being turned over to Spanish authorities in February of last year. Katan is accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, but not direct involvement in Sept. 11 (search) planning.
"I love Spain," he said. "I have never had any problems with anyone in Spain."
Hours later, looking drawn after a day of testimony, he sighed and said, "I am completely innocent."
Katan said he was insulted and physically abused while held in solitary confinement for 15 days in Jordan before being turned over to Spain. "They stepped on me. They humiliated me," he told the court.
He said that when he arrived in Madrid in handcuffs, he could not believe what was happening to him. "I thought it was a dream," he said.
Katan is one of 24 suspected Al Qaeda members on trial in Madrid since April 22.
Three of the 24 are accused specifically of helping plot the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. One of them, Imad Yarkas, testified last week and denied charges that he helped arrange a planning meeting in Spain in July 2001 for a suspected suicide pilot and an alleged coordinator of the suicide airline attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The other 21 defendants, including Katan, face charges of terrorism, illegal possession of weapons or explosives and other offenses.
Prosecutors say that while living in Spain, Katan was recruited in 1995 to travel to Bosnia and teach Islamic fighters at a terrorism training camp. He returned to Spain in 1996, formed an offshoot of a Spanish Al Qaeda cell and aided mujahedeen fighting in Bosnia and Afghanistan, according to prosecutor Pedro Rubira.
Katan said that when he was interrogated for three days last year in Madrid by Judge Baltasar Garzon, the magistrate pressured him to incriminate Yarkas, the suspected leader of the Spanish Al Qaeda cell.
Katan said Garzon interrogated him without a translator and at times turned off the tape recorder to tell him what to say. Katan said his comments in that interrogation had "nothing to do with reality."
After one session of interrogation, Katan said, Garzon gave him a document to sign and Katan said he did not understand what it was. "Don't worry, just sign it," Katan quoted the judge as saying.
Rubira asked that the court replay excerpts of the tape. In the recording heard in court, Katan did not complain or sound like he was under duress.
He said in the tape that he went to Zenica, Bosnia, in 1995 and was at a large house housing young mujahedeen, or Islamic fighters, but that he had only worked there as a martial arts instructor.
On the tape he said that while living in Madrid he knew Yarkas and Mustafa Setmariam, a fugitive Syrian considered a senior Al Qaeda operative, from their fund-raising and recruiting activity at a mosque.
Katan described them as insistent, domineering men. "They imposed their way, dominating people," Katan said in the tape.