MADRID (Reuters) - A Spanish trial began on Thursday of 29 people charged with involvement in the Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people three years ago in the deadliest al Qaeda-related attack in Europe.
Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, who is accused of inciting people to carry out the morning rush hour attacks, was first to be led to the stand but he refused to give any evidence.
Dozens of lawyers and victims filed into the courtroom to hear evidence against 20 Arab men and nine Spaniards who face charges ranging from terrorist murder to stealing dynamite from mines to sell to the bombers, often in exchange for drugs.
The accused who had been held in custody awaiting trial sat in a high-security glass box, watching silently as a clerk read out their names. The other 11 sat in open court.
"I know nothing about these accusations," said Ahmed, also known as "Mohamed the Egyptian." He was convicted of belonging to a terrorist group by an Italian court last year.
"With all respect, I am not going to answer any questions even from my lawyer," he said through an interpreter.
Dressed in jeans and a white jacket, Ahmed sat back in his chair while state prosecutor Olga Sanchez asked a list of questions about why and when he came to Madrid, and comments he allegedly made that the March 11 bombings were "my plan."
She also asked if he was involved in a global jihad, or holy war, and whether he had indoctrinated others about martyrdom.
Ahmed is one of four men the prosecutor has singled out as the ideologues behind the bombs which ripped apart four commuter trains like tin cans and injured about 2,000 people, many of whom are still in treatment and have never returned to work.
Two of the other alleged masterminds will follow Ahmed on to the stand. The fourth was one of seven suspects who blew themselves up in an apartment block weeks after the bombs.
When the bombs exploded three days before an election, the then-ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) quickly blamed the attack on Basque separatists ETA.
As more evidence pointed to Islamist militants and a video tape surfaced claiming the attack was revenge for Spain's support for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation turned out in force to vote the PP out of power.
When the new Socialist government took power, it quickly fulfilled an election pledge to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.
The Madrid court hearings are expected to last until July when the three-judge panel will retire to consider the evidence. They are not expected to come out with their verdicts and sentences until October at the earliest.
Copyright © 2007 Reuters