MADRID, Spain – Judges were set to announce verdicts Wednesday in the 2004 train bombings, with prosecutors seeking jail terms of nearly 40,000 years for each of the top suspects in Europe's worst Islamic terror attack.
The blasts killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800, traumatizing Spain and arguably toppling its government — the first time an administration that backed the U.S.-led Iraq war was voted out of power.
A three-judge panel at the National Court will read out verdicts for 28 people accused of masterminding, carrying out or helping prepare the attacks on four packed commuter trains heading into Madrid from working-class neighborhoods during the morning rush hour of March 11, 2004.
Most of the suspects are young Muslim men of North African origin who allegedly acted out of allegiance to Al Qaeda to avenge the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, although Spanish investigators say they did so without a direct order or financing from Usama bin Laden's terror network.
The defendants — whose five-month trial ended in July — also include nine Spaniards, including one woman, charged with supplying stolen dynamite used in the string of rapid-fire explosions. All 28 say they are innocent.
That day of carnage, wailing sirens and cell phones going unanswered amid the wreckage of blackened, gutted trains is etched in Spain's collective memory and is now widely known as simply 11-M, much as the term 9-11 conjures up so much pain for Americans.
Prosecutors are seeking sentences of up to 38,976 years each for eight lead defendants — 30 years for each of the people killed in the attacks, 18 years for each of the wounded, plus more time for other terrorism-related charges. But the most time any can spend in jail is 40 years. Spain has no death penalty or life imprisonment.
Seven suspected ringleaders of the attacks — including the operational chief and an ideologue — blew themselves up in a safe house outside Madrid three weeks after the massacre as special forces who tracked them via cell phone traffic moved in to arrest them.
Of those who stood trial, three are charged with helping orchestrate the attacks. They include Rabei Osman, a 35-year-old Egyptian who allegedly bragged during a wiretapped phone conversation that the attacks were his idea. He is in jail in Italy on other terrorism charges and will watch Wednesday's session via video conference.
Conservatives in power at the time of the attacks initially blamed Basque separatists, even as evidence of Islamic involvement emerged. This led to charges of a cover-up to deflect attention away from the government's support of the Iraq war, and in elections three days after the bombings the conservatives lost to the opposition Socialists.