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Madrid suspect at al Qaeda trial

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman
The Madrid train bombings killed 191 and wounded more than 1,500.
Madrid (Spain)
Acts of terror
Al Qaeda

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A key suspect in the Madrid train bombings has appeared as a witness at the trial of 24 al Qaeda suspects in Madrid, as authorities seek to clarify how well he knew several of the suspects -- including the alleged ringleader.

Wednesday's appearance was the first in an open court for Jamal Zougam, and came as the court announced it would release five suspects in the al Qaeda trial, on provisional liberty.

Zougam spent just 15 minutes in court, answering prosecution questions but none from the defense.

He testified that he did know the alleged ringleader, Syrian-born Imad Eddin Barakat Yarakas and another defendant, Said Chedadi, but denied knowing the others.

He was brought into the courtroom at 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m. EDT) in handcuffs, which were removed as he took the stand.

Zougam, 32, was born in Tangiers, Morocco, and came to Spain as a boy. Authorities say he may be a suspect linking the Madrid train bombings to the al Qaeda trial and perhaps to the Casablanca attacks in 2003.

Zougam is charged with mass murder in the train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500 in a series of coordinated attacks against four morning rush hour commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004.

The Madrid train bombing trial starts later in the year.

Two witnesses have said Zougam was aboard one of the trains, leading to suspicions he may have placed one of the 10 bombs used in the attacks. Police also link him to the cell phones that were used as timing devices to detonate the bombs.

Zougam, arrested two days after the train bombings last year, has denied any involvement in the attacks.

But Spanish, French and Moroccan police have been watching him for years. His Madrid home was searched in 2001 and, although he was not arrested then, officials say he had the phone numbers of several people linked to the al Qaeda trial, including Yarkas.

Yarkas is among three defendants at the al Qaeda trial who are charged with helping to plan the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

Yarkas and Zougam have testified separately that they knew each from the Madrid neighborhood of Lavapies, where Zougam owned a cell phone store and co-owned a barbershop. The neighborhood is home to many immigrants.

Police also say Zougam was close to two brothers who are suspects in the Casablanca bombings against Spanish and Jewish targets in 2003.

Zougam insisted during his testimony that he knew Yarkas only from their business dealings. But he said he could not remember anything about a phone call the prosecutor said took place between Zougam and Yarkas on September 5, 2001, just days before the U.S. attacks, in which Zougam allegedly said he had just returned from Morocco and that another friend was about to visit Spain.

Prosecutors say the "friend" was a man known as Abu Muhgen, in reality Moroccan-born Salaheddin Benyaich, who has since been arrested in Morocco as a suspect in the Casablanca bombings. Zougam insisted he did not know Abu Mughen.

Zougam also said he did not know Moroccan-born Amer Azizi, a fugitive who is sought in the al Qaeda case in Spain and also the Madrid train bombings. Police say Azizi's phone number was found in Zougam's home when it was searched by police in 2001.

At the conclusion of his testimony, Zougam said he was being badly treated in prison, and the presiding judge said he would need to take that up with prison authorities.

Zougam complained to the judge that he's being portrayed as "a very dangerous person" and the judge asked guards to take him out of the courtroom. The judge emphasized during the brief testimony that the focus Wednesday was on the al Qaeda trial, not the train bombing case.

Just before Zougam took the stand, the court announced it had granted provisional liberty to five of the al Qaeda suspects, because the risk of their flight is seen as being reduced, a court official said.

The five cannot leave Spain, will not have their passports and must report daily to authorities.

They were identified as Waheed Koshaji Kelani, released on bail of 150,000 euros ($185,212); his brother Ahmad Koshaji Kelani, released on 50,000-euro bond; Mohamed Khair Al Saqqa, released on 50,000-euro bond, Bassam Dalati, released on 20,000-euro bond, and Sid Ahmed Boudjella, released without bond.

The other al Qaeda suspects who remain as defendants but also have been released from jail include Syrian-born Al-Jazeera correspondent Tayseer Allouni, released for health reasons, and Syrian-born Ghasoub al Abrash Ghalyoun, a prime suspect in the trial, released on bail of 50,000 euros.

Prosecutors charged that Ghalyoun took detailed videotapes of the World Trade Center and other U.S. landmarks while posing as a tourist in 1997 and that the tapes were used as training material for other al Qaeda operatives.

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