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5 terror suspects on trial in Madrid

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
  • Five Algerians accused of collaborating with Islamic terrorists
  • Prosecutor seeking prison terms ranging from seven to 16 years
  • Defendants say they are innocent, that prosecutors claims like "Hollywood movie"
  • Alleged leader suspected of creating support cell for al Qaeda-linked radical group
  • Spain
  • Terrorism
  • Al Qaeda

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- Five Algerian men accused of collaborating with Islamic terrorists and seeking to obtain bomb-making components for an alleged plot to attack a Madrid department store went on trial Tuesday in a high-security courtroom at Spain's National Court.

All but one has been free on provisional liberty and they told CNN outside the courtroom, just before the start of the trial, that they and their lone jailed colleague were all innocent. The prosecutor's charges pile "lie upon lie," one defendant told CNN, and seemed to be taken from a "Hollywood movie," added another.

But the prosecutor, Blanca Rodriguez, seeks prison terms ranging from seven to 16 years for the defendants. All are charged with collaborating with terrorists, and some face additional charges, such as possession of tools to forge documents.

Rodriguez wrote in a 14-page charge sheet that "Spain has become one of the preferred locations for Islamists who escape from Algeria, due to its geographical proximity and direct link by ferry." The five defendants all have lived for years in Alicante, on Spain's eastern Mediterranean coast, and Rodriguez wrote that "cities such as Alicante have become logistical bases for radical Algerian groups."

The alleged leader of the five defendants is Said Bouchema, 41, who is suspected of creating a support cell for the radical Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which is linked to al Qaeda, Rodriguez wrote.

He did so at his restaurant in Alicante, a meeting place for Algerians and also a locale where stolen goods were fenced, the charge sheet said. The proceeds, along with forged documents, were sent to Algeria, and Bouchema also tried to recruit others for radical purposes, Rodriguez wrote.

The other four defendants, aged 31 to 40, also allegedly were part of the group, which in late 2004 and in 2005 allegedly attempted to obtain material that could be used to make bombs for an attack, Rodriguez wrote.

Police became aware of this, at least in part, through an unidentified protected witness, dubbed "A-1," who was in regular contact with the defendants, Rodriguez wrote.

The defendants also allegedly searched for a substance called "red mercury" that could be used to make a so-called "dirty bomb," the prosecutor said in the charge sheet.

Police arrested the suspects November 23, 2005, and seized from their homes stolen goods, including computers and jewelry, thousands of dollars in cash, forged documents and correspondence with a suspected Islamic militant in France, Rodriguez wrote.

The defendants told CNN outside the courtroom that most of them were released after two years in pre-trial prison, with the requirement to report regularly to authorities.

The only defendant in prison at the start of the trial -- and guarded by two uniformed police officers in the courtroom -- had been free on provisional liberty until recently, when authorities deemed he had not complied with pre-trial procedures for contacting authorities, according to officials and the other defendants.

The first defendant to take the stand, Soufiane Sadji, 39, declined to answer any questions from the prosecutor, including many about his alleged attempts to obtain "red mercury."

He could face 15 years in prison if convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group and possessing tools that could be used to make forged documents.