Alleged ringleader of Madrid bombings went on trial in Italy

An alleged ringleader of the March 2004 Madrid bombings went on trial here Tuesday on charges of international terrorism and plotting another attack in an undisclosed location. Handcuffed and dressed in white robes and a skullcap, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was escorted by police into the courtroom and placed in a cage off to the side of the room. He listened to the proceedings through an interpreter.

The start of the trial was thrown into some uncertainty because Ahmed's lawyer, identified in court documents as Antonio Rossi of Piacenza, didn't show up in court. However, Judge Luigi Cerqua appointed another attorney to represent Ahmed and the hearing got under way with initial motions, two hours late.

Italian police acting on a tip from their Spanish counterparts arrested Ahmed in Milan three months after the Madrid attacks. He is accused of recruiting extremists as the head of a terrorist cell. Spanish and Italian authorities consider the 34-year-old Egyptian 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 denied he is the person speaking in intercepted conversations that Italian police say prove his role in the attacks and show that Ahmed was indoctrinating militants for suicide bomb missions in Iraq and elsewhere.

Italian police said in a report summarizing the investigation that Ahmed was also trying "to construct cells at a European level in order to carry out terrorist actions on the model of Madrid."

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. He too appeared in court on Tuesday and joined Ahmed in the cage.

Ragheh's attorney, Roberta Ligotti, told reporters as she arrived at the tribunal that the case had been overblown because of the alleged link to the Madrid bombings. "There's a collective fear at the moment," she said. "There's a great interest in seeing terrorist crimes everywhere."

She said there was insufficient proof that Ragheh belonged to any terrorist cell and said prosecutors had only cited one phone call traced to her client in their evidence.

Both Ahmed and Ragheh are accused of subversive association aimed at international terrorism, a charge introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States as Italy stepped up its efforts against terrorist suspects, reports the AP. I.L.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team