Spain Tries Islamists over Barcelona Terror Plot

At the trial, which began at the National Court in Madrid on November 12, 2009, one of the alleged leaders of the cell, Mohammad Ayub Elahi Bibi, 65, denied any involvement in the plot. He said that he had lived in Barcelona, where he has a family, since 1974 and that he practiced a peaceful version of Islam.

Another suspected cell member, Qadeer Malik, 33, also denied the charges, saying he has “more respect for Spain than Pakistan” and is “one thousand percent against violent Islamists.” He also said that he had never even heard of the word Taliban until he moved to Spain in 2001.

Malik, who has been accused of belonging to a part of the cell tasked with making bombs for the attacks, told the National Court that he delivers butane gas canisters and does not know anything about electronics or chemicals. “I don’t even know how to connect two cables,” he said.

The main ringleader of the alleged plot, Maroof Ahmed Mirza, a 40-year-old imam at a mosque in downtown Barcelona, has refused to testify.

In the original indictment which was handed down in June 2009, Judge Ismael Moreno, the investigating magistrate, said the cell had “acquired operational capability at a human level and was close to achieving full technical capability in making explosives.”

In an October 2009 document outlining the charges, prosecutor Vicente González-Mota said the suspects “were preparing and organizing a series of terrorist attacks in Europe that would start in Barcelona.” The document says that police found timers, steel balls, and air-gun pellets to serve as shrapnel, and other material for making bombs. But the charge sheet also reiterates that police found only a few grams of white powder that came from emptying out fireworks.

This may explain why prosecutors have not charged the defendants with actually conspiring to organize a terrorist attack. Instead, they have been charged with lesser crimes of belonging to a terrorist group, possessing explosives, and falsifying official documents.

On the first day of the trial, defense attorney Jacobo Teijelo Casanova said: “There was no bomb in Barcelona. The police said there would also be bombs elsewhere in Europe, but there were not. Not even arrests. Their argument is full of holes.”

At this point, the only thing all sides agree upon is that the prosecution’s entire case rests almost exclusively on the testimony of F1.

Spanish prosecutors say the cell acted under the inspiration of the TTP, led at the time by Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a CIA drone attack in August 2009. Plans for the Barcelona attack were later claimed in a video by Maulvi Omar, a TTP spokesman who has since been captured by Pakistani security forces. In the video, Omar also criticized the presence of Spanish troops in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors say F1 joined the TTP from France, later received military training in Pakistan, and was finally sent to Barcelona, where he met the other suspects, learned of their plans, and quickly informed Spanish authorities. Prosecutors also allege that after the Barcelona attack, Mehsud planned to issue demands, which if unmet would result in further attacks in other European countries.

The big question now is whether prosecutors have enough hard evidence to make the charges against the defendants stick. Indeed, Spain’s legal and judicial system has been criticized for its poor track record on prosecuting terrorism suspects.

For example, although more than 300 suspected Islamic extremists have been arrested in Spain since the Madrid commuter train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 on March 11, 2004, only a few of them have been prosecuted.

In October 2007, Spanish prosecutors were able to secure only three murder verdicts among the 28 defendants guilty of involvement in the Madrid bombings. Moreover, Rabei Osman, an Egyptian accused of masterminding the attacks, was acquitted because much of the evidence against him was circumstantial.

Spanish judges often avoid relying on circumstantial evidence because several high-profile terrorism cases have been overturned on appeal, including a case directly involving the United States. In June 2006, the Spanish Supreme Court overturned the sentence of several members of a Spanish cell accused of involvement in the attacks on September 11, 2001.

The current trial is set to end on November 30. But many Spaniards are already guessing that the defendants will either walk free or receive light sentences.