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Arrests made in Spanish bomb plot

From Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Video of the March 11 bombing of a Madrid commuter train. (Viewer discretion advised)
Madrid (Spain)
Acts of terror

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge has charged 17 people in an alleged Islamic plot to blow up the court in Madrid that handles terrorism cases, according to a judge's order seen by CNN.

The truck bombing was aimed at killing judges, court personnel and civilians and destroying court files in cases against Islamic terrorists, the order says.

The alleged plot was directed by an Algerian man, Mohamed Acharf, who is under arrest in Switzerland. Spain has asked for his extradition.

According to the court order, Acharf assembled the group -- that called itself Martyrs for Morocco -- in Spanish prisons where he was serving time.

Spanish police arrested eight suspected Islamic radicals on Monday and Tuesday in connection with the plot, Spain's interior minister said.

Ten other suspects in the National Court plot already were in Spanish jails for other crimes. One man among the 18 is being held for further questioning and was not charged.

Judge Baltasar Garzon also issued arrest warrants for seven other people.

Arraignments in the case began Friday and were finished late Saturday before Garzon, a principal investigator of Islamic terrorism in Spain. All the charges were issued Saturday night.

The suspects allegedly would have packed at least 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) of explosives in a truck to blow up the court building on a busy street in central Madrid.

The police search this week of the homes of many suspects turned up no explosives, government officials said, but the court order said the conspirators had a clear plan to obtain explosives shortly before the attack on the court.

About 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives were used in the bombs that hit the Madrid commuter rail network on March 11, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.

The Madrid train bombings investigation is headed at the National Court by Judge Juan del Olmo.

Garzon last year indicted 35 people, including Osama bin Laden, for terrorism, including several people suspected of a role in the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

The court order says the National Court bomb plot "was not only under way but that, if it has been stopped, it is due to the police and judicial action that was deployed."

The case against the suspects, the court order said, was built on the earlier testimony of a protected witness, documents seized -- including correspondence between various suspects making cryptic references to holy wars and martyrdom -- wiretapped conversations and police intelligence reports.

The 14-page court order links one suspect of the National Court bomb plot, Abdelkrim Bensmail, to a suspected ringleader of the Madrid train bombings and also to three men serving sentences in the United States for their roles in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

Bensmail was earlier convicted of belonging to the Armed Islamic Group, a terrorist group of Algerian origin, and while in Spanish prison, he received money from an Algerian, Allekema Lamari, through March 6, just five days before the March 11 Madrid train attacks, the court order said.

Police say Lamari was a suspected leader of the train bombings, and he was among the seven suspected terrorists -- all linked to the train bombings -- who blew themselves up on April 3 as police raided their suburban Madrid hideout, three weeks after the train bombings.

The court order said Bensmail and two other National Court plot suspects were all linked to three men -- Mohamed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima and Widal Ayyad -- who are serving terms in the United States for the 1993 World Trade Center attack in New York.

The suspects, under the direction of Acharf, formed the Martyrs for Morroco in late 2001 and early 2002, which police had determined by November 2003 was of a Salafist terrorist organization bent, aimed at carrying out a jihad, particularly in Spain, with an attack on the National Court and its staff.

The group members were willing to commit suicide attacks.

Members came together in Spanish prisons, particularly in Topas prison in Salamanca province west of Madrid, where many of the suspects were serving terms for common crimes.

Acharf made contact with men in the group who eventually were released from jail, in order to keep them ready to become part of a terrorist attack, the court order said.

Simultaneously, Acharf and others like him who had been earlier convicted for terrorist activities as part of the Armed Islamic Group, whose origins were in Algeria, carried out recruitment.

All but one of the 17 suspects were charged with belonging to an Islamic terrorist group.

The court order identified them as Abdelkrim Bensmail, Mohamed Amine Akli, Bachir Belhakem, Majid Mchmacha, Eddebdoubi Taoufik, of Morocco; Mouad Douas, Mustafa Farjani, of Morocco, Baanou Abdullah, of Morocco; Addila Mimon, of Algeria; Said Afif, Mokhatar Siah, Djamel Merabet, of Algeria;, Kamara Birahima Diadie, of Mauritania, Madjid Sahouane, Mourad Yala and Abdol Ghaffar Hashemi.

The 17th suspect, Baldomero Lara Sanchez, of Spain, was charged with collaborating with an Islamic terrorist group. The 18th suspect, Smail Latrech, was held over pending further investigation.

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