An alleged ringleader of the March 2004 Madrid bombings goes on trial in Milan on Tuesday, charged with international terrorism and plotting another attack in an undisclosed location. Italian police acting on a tip from their Spanish counterparts arrested Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed in Milan three months after the Madrid attacks. The 34-year-old Egyptian is considered by Spanish and Italian authorities as a mastermind of the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500.
Ahmed has maintained his innocence and denied belonging to a terrorist group. He has said that he is not the person speaking on tapped phone conversations that Italian police say prove his role in the attacks. Also standing trial is 22-year-old Egyptian Yahia Ragheh, picked up in the same operation as Ahmed and described by authorities as a would-be suicide bomber. Arrested in a Europe-wide operation that also saw 15 suspected Islamic militants detained in Belgium and the Netherlands, Ahmed has been linked to terrorist cells across Europe.
Investigators traced his movements in the years before the Madrid attacks in countries including Spain, France, Germany and Italy, and have detailed his frequent contact with Islamic extremists.
Italy's Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said after Ahmed's arrest that he was "probably among the principal authors" of the Madrid bombings, and that he was "preparing other attacks."
Italian prosecutors have cited the case as an example of cooperation between European authorities.
Police here began monitoring Ahmed shortly after the Madrid bombings, intercepting conversations with Ragheh they say confirm Ahmed's role.
"There is something, there is something I can't hide from you," Italian police quote him as telling Ragheh in a report on the case. "The Madrid attack is my project and those who died as martyrs are my dearest friends."
Ahmed was extradited to Spain for four months where he was questioned on the Madrid attacks by Spanish officials, and returned to Italy last April.
Spanish judge Juan del Olmo has filed provisional charges against him of mass murder and terrorism, though Ahmed has not been indicted in Spain.
In the arrest warrant for Ahmed, del Olmo said the Egyptian "managed to take control of a small group of Arab followers, all of them with extremist Islamic ideology, supporters of jihad and Osama bin Laden."
A senior Spanish judge warned last week that the probe into the Madrid bombings is going so slowly that some suspects might have to be released from custody before a trial takes place. Twenty-six suspects are jailed in Spain in connection with the bombings, which were claimed by Islamic militants who said they had acted on behalf of al-Qaida, reports the AP.
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