Prague, 27 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The biggest trial of Islamic militants held in Europe has ended in lengthy prison sentences for a total of 18 people.
In passing sentence yesterday, a panel of judges of the Spanish High Court said there had existed in Spain a cell of the Al-Qaeda terror movement whose aim was to "destabilize the world order" through terrorism.
This cell, which the judges called one of Al-Qaeda's many "tentacles," was headed by Syrian-born Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the main defendant at the Madrid trial.
Yarkas received the longest sentence of a total of 27 years for leading a terror group and for conspiracy to commit murder by terrorism.
The case relates to the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The court said in its judgment that Yarkas was aware of the planned 9/11 operation, in which more than 3,000 Americans were killed.
This cell, which the judges called one of al-Qaida's many "tentacles," was headed by Syrian-born Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the main defendant at the Madrid trial.
The judges said he might even have had a hand in developing the idea for the attack. But they dismissed as unproven the prosecution's contention that Yarkas actually took part in the 9/11 attacks. The same charge also failed against two other defendants, Driss Chebli and Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun.
Yarkas, like the other defendants, had pleaded innocent to all charges. In a comment to journalists, he claimed he was not a man of violence.
"I don't like shooting or having a weapon," Yarkas said. "My father is a general. He used to belong to the Syrian army and therefore I am familiar with weapons; I have seen tanks, I was in one tank when I was a kid, but that's all."
Among those sentenced was a journalist with the Arab television station Al-Jazeera, Tayseer Alouni, who received seven years for collaboration with a terrorist group.
Alouni's jailing has brought expressions of concern from media freedom organisations, who note that Alouni had interviwed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shortly before 9/11.
The Paris-based media body Reporters Without Borders said it is the job of journalists to investigate terror groups and their activities.
"During his trial, the prosecutor referred frequently to the interview which Tayseer Alouni had made with bin Laden; so the fact that they referred to this interview shows that this case is linked with issues of freedom of expression and with his job as a journalist," the organization's news editor, Jean Francois Julliard, told RFE/RL today.
Spain is also conducting a separate trial relating to the Madrid train bombings of 2004 in which almost 200 people were killed on suburban trains. Some 100 people are currently facing charges over those bombings.
In Germany, meanwhile, the trial is continuing of four Arab men who are accused of planning bomb attacks on Jewish targets in Germany under orders from the Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi.
Prosecutors at the trial in Dusseldorf have asked for sentences of eight years in jail.