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9/11 conviction quashed in Spain

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Yarkas was alleged to be al Qaeda's leader in Spain.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain's Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Syrian-born man for conspiracy in the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The high court threw out a 15-year sentence against Imad Eddin Barak Yarkas for conspiracy to commit murder in the 2001 airline attacks, but upheld his conviction as an al Qaeda leader in Spain, a court spokesman told CNN.

Yarkas remains in jail serving a 12-year sentence her received for his al Qaeda involvement, the spokesman said.

The Supreme Court also completely overturned the sentences of three other men who were convicted with Yarkas last September in what was then Europe's largest al-Qaeda trial to date.

Last September, the National Court, a lower tribunal, convicted 18 of the 24 defendants on trial for al Qaeda and terrorism links, acquitting the other six.

Yarkas's sentence of 27 years -- 15 for conspiracy an 12 for leadership -- was the stiffest handed down in the terror trials.

The prosecution had sought thousands of years in jail for Yarkas and two other key defendants for their roles in the deaths of the September 11 victims.

But the National Court last September convicted only Yarkas of a 911-link, and on the lesser charge of conspiracy, which the Supreme Court has now overturned

The three men completely exonerated by the Supreme Court were Abdelaziz Benyaich and Sadik Merizak, who had been sentenced last September to eight years each for al Qaeda membership, and also Driss Chebli, sentenced to six years for collaboration with al Qaeda, the spokesman said.

Prosecutors at the trial had argued that Moroccan-born Chebli was a top aide to Yarkas and that he also helped plot the 911 attacks, from Spain. But last September, he was convicted on the lesser charge of collaboration with al Qaeda, and sentenced to six years, now overturned by the Supreme Court.

Chebli, Benyaich and Merizak were released from prison last April 7 in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling, the spokesman said.

The Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in reducing Yarkas's sentence and acquitting the other three, but the sentence will not be released until next week, the spokesman said.

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