MADRID, Spain – A war correspondent with the Arab satellite television station Al-Jazeera (search) denied charges Monday that he had close ties to the alleged leader of a Spanish Al Qaeda (search) cell accused of helping plot the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Tayssir Alouni (search), 50, who interviewed Usama bin Laden (search) shortly after the attacks, is among 24 suspects on trial here in Europe's biggest court case against radical groups with alleged ties to the terror network.
Three suspects are accused specifically of using Spain as a staging ground to help plan the suicide airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Alouni, a Syrian-born Spaniard, is among the other 21, accused of terrorism, weapons possession or other offenses — but not helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks.
Spanish investigative magistrate Baltasar Garzon says Alouni, while living in the southern city of Granada in the 1990s, formed a radical Muslim indoctrination unit and was the right-hand man of the alleged leader of the Spanish cell, Syrian-born Spaniard Imad Yarkas (search), who is also on trial.
Alouni could face nine years in prison if convicted of belonging to the Spanish cell.
Alouni denied being close with Yarkas, whom he said he met in the early 1990s.
"We met just as Syrian nationals. I've always thought that he was a nice and polite man," Alouni told the court. "This relationship has never been intense or continuous."
Prosecutor Pedro Rubira said Yarkas used trips made by Alouni as a reporter to Afghanistan to send money to Al Qaeda members. Alouni covered the war in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion to topple the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies in late 2001.
Alouni also said he had no knowledge of Yarkas recruiting men for terrorism training camps in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as alleged by Spanish prosecutors.
"I had no idea if Yarkas was recruiting mujahedeen," Alouni said.
Rubira also says Alouni had close ties to Mamoun Darkanzali, a suspected Al Qaeda member who was allegedly close to the Hamburg, Germany, cell that plotted and staged the Sept. 11 attacks. Darkanzali is fighting extradition to Spain, where he was indicted by Garzon in September 2003 along with 34 other people, including Alouni and Yarkas.
Because of a heart condition, Alouni is one of only two defendants who are free on bail and have been allowed to sit in the main part of the courtroom since the trial began April 22. The other 22 defendants sit in a cramped, bulletproof chamber.
Alouni was a war correspondent in the Mideast for the Doha-based Al-Jazeera and was its Kabul correspondent during the Afghan war.