MADRID, Spain – A Moroccan on trial in the 2004 Madrid terror bombings denied he was the man seen claiming responsibility in a chilling video found after the attack, and testified Friday that he condemned violence and had no link to terrorism.
Youssef Belhadj said two of his relatives also on trial on lesser charges had accused him of being a member of Al Qaeda in Europe out of fear, after Spanish police had detained the entire family for questioning.
"They were insulted and threatened that they would be taken back to Morocco," Belhadj said under questioning from his defense attorney during the second day of trial Friday. "So if I were in their shoes ... I would have said things like that."
Belhadj was the second alleged ringleader to testify in the case, and the second to refuse to answer questions from prosecutors. Under Spanish law, a suspect can still be questioned by his defense attorney, even if will not agree to cross-examination.
Prosecutors say Belhadj, 30, was the man in a video found near a Madrid mosque two days after the rush-hour train bombings.
The hooded man in the video says the attacks — which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800 — were carried out by Al Qaeda out of revenge for the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite that video, prosecutors say a two-year investigation revealed no evidence of a link between the Mar. 11, 2004, bombers and Usama bin Laden's group. They say the North African immigrants were inspired by bin Laden's call for global jihad, but that neither bin Laden nor his inner circle knew of the plans ahead of time or gave any logistical or financial support to the Madrid cell.
The trial started Thursday with testimony from Egyptian suspect Rabei Osman, also accused of being a mastermind of the attacks. Osman also denied involvement and condemned violence.
The Madrid bombings were the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe linked to Islamic militants, and the trial in a low-slung courtroom on the outskirts of the capital comes as the country continues to try to come to grips with the events of that day.
Scores of survivors and relatives of victims were attending the trial, and a team of psychologists and doctors was on hand to help them cope with the trauma.
Dressed in jeans and a black jacket, Belhadj sat back in his chair while state prosecutor Olga Sanchez asked him if he came to Madrid in February 2004 to give the bombers last-minute instructions about the attack, as Spanish investigators allege.
She asked if he had chosen the date of the attack, whether he was involved in jihad, or holy war, and whether he had ever gone to training camps in Afghanistan or received training about detonating explosives with remote controls.
He answered none of those questions, but later told his defense attorney that he was innocent and condemned the Madrid attacks and all other violence.
Prosecutors are asking for a prison sentence of 38,656 years for Belhadj, though under Spanish law he can serve no more than 40 years behind bars.