Leader of al Qaeda in Spain jailed for September 11 role

By Elizabeth Nash

The suspected leader of al Qaeda in Spain has been jailed for 27 years in connection with the September 11 attacks in America, concluding Europe's biggest trial of Islamists.

Syrian-born Spanish national Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, 43, known as Abu Dahdah, was jailed by Spain's high court for conspiring to commit murder.

He was tried with 17 other men, who were all convicted on charges of aiding al Qaeda terrorism.

Two others were cleared of helping to plot the attacks, although one, Driss Chebli, was sentenced to six years for collaborating with a terrorist organisation.

The 17, mostly of Syrian or Moroccan origin, were sentenced to between six and 11 years' jail for offences including belonging to or helping a terrorist group, possession of weapons, the forging of official documents and fraud.

Yesterday's verdict represents the most significant conviction in the world of those implicated in the 2001 attacks that killed 2973 people.

Yarkas' sentence falls short of the 75,337 years for murder - about 25 years for each death - sought by the prosecution, reflecting the difficulties in establishing proof in a case where none of the accused was ever near the crime scene.

A journalist for the Arabic television network al-Jazeera, Tayseer Alouny, who interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in August 1997, was jailed for seven years for collaborating with al Qaeda.

Defence lawyers argued the case consisted of doubts and suspicions rather than concrete evidence.

The defendants were among a group of 41 suspects indicted by campaigning judge Baltasar Garzon.

Judge Garzon has said Spain was a base for hiding, recruiting and financing al Qaeda members before the attacks on the United States.

Yarkas was accused of preparing a meeting in Tarragona on June 16, 2001, with al Qaeda operatives.

Those due to meet included Mohamed Atta - the suicide hijacker who three months later crashed a plane into the World Trade Centre - to decide last-minute plans.

The trial of Yarkas and the other suspects, all in jail since 2001, began in April and ended in July.

Yarkas' cell was dismantled in November 2001 but police believe many of the members who were not captured took part in the Madrid train bombings last year.

- INDEPENDENT

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