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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 17:16 GMT
Spanish 'superjudge' targets terror
Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon
Action man: Garzon declares war on terrorism
By Flora Botsford in Madrid

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who rose to international prominence when he tried to have the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, extradited to Spain, is now spearheading the campaign in his country against al-Qaeda.


I am convinced that they will have a fair trial and fair treatment. In Spain torture is forbidden

Juan Garces

There are 14 suspected Islamic militants in Spanish jails, all of whom are awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

The emerging evidence suggests they might be at the heart of a network of contacts all over Europe.

In his indictment, Judge Garzon has directly linked at least some of the suspects with the attacks on 11 September.

'Superjudge'

In Spain, he is known as Superjudge.

Mr Garzon has been conducting his very own war on terrorism for years, cracking down on the Basque separatist group ETA and its supporters.

General augusto Pinochet
General Pinochet was one of Garzon's targets

But even before 11 September, he began investigating Islamic cells in Spain, which he believed were planning attacks in Europe.

The first al-Qaeda suspect was picked up in June and extradited to France.

In recent years, Spain has seen the arrival of tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants, mainly from North Africa.

The authorities believe that Spain's fluid and rapidly expanding Muslim community could provide the perfect hiding place for Islamic militants.

Concern

Evidence gathered during recent arrests in Madrid provides a worry insight into al-Qaeda's activities in Spain, according to a senior police officer, Juan Cortino.


We were very surprised when we heard about it. We never would have imagined that there could be terrorist cells here in Spain

Mohammed Sali
Madrid mosque

"These suspects had been in training camps for terrorists, learning about car bombs and killing people, how to shoot, how to place bombs, or how to blow up an aeroplane.

"The important thing for us is to investigate these activities, so that before any of these things can happen, there is a preventative arrest which prevents the crime, and this is what the Spanish police have done," said Mr Cortino.

One of the 14 suspects in preventative detention here is Syrian-born Edin Barakat Yarkas, better known by his alias Abu Dada.

Police allege he is the head of al-Qaeda in Spain, and was in contact with other cells in Europe.

It is known that Abu Dada and some of the other al-Qaeda suspects came to pray at Madrid's main mosque.

But its administrator, Mohammed Sali, is unhappy with the suggestion that any Muslim should be condemned as a terrorist before a proper trial.

"We do not know whether these people are guilty or not guilty. If they are guilty, of course they must be tried. But this is for the judges and the courts to decide when they examine the evidence against them.

"We were very surprised when we heard about it. We never would have imagined that there could be terrorist cells here in Spain," said Mr Sali.

Extradition worries

The public debate has now moved from what the suspects may or may not have been doing in Spain, to what the authorities should now do with them.

Demonstration against ETA
The Spanish government wants help against ETA

Under the country's anti-terrorism laws, they can be held for up to four years without trial while the investigation continues.

That may involve other al-Qaeda suspects held in other countries being extradited to Spain.

But the question of Spain extraditing them to the United States, for example, is causing concern, not just because of the death penalty, but because President Bush is now talking about secret military trials.

This has let extradition experts, like the Pinochet lawyer Juan Garces, to argue that any al-Qaeda suspect arrested in Spain should be tried in Spain.

"I am convinced that they will have a fair trial and fair treatment. In Spain, torture is forbidden. Nobody can be declared guilty without due process. I agree with the very high level of standards," said Mr Garces.

"And Spain cannot extradite those people to a country where they risk the death penalty, or where they risk judgement in front of a special judiciary without respecting due process. So I assume that those people normally will be judged in Spain."

No formal request has been made by the United States for the extradition of Spain's suspected al-Qaeda prisoners.

But in recent talks in Washington, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar pledged his full support to President Bush and the war on terrorism.

In return, he is hoping that America will stick to its promise of helping Spain fight ETA.

See also:

19 Jan 99 | The Pinochet file
'Superjudge' with eye for the headlines
06 Nov 01 | Europe
In pictures: Madrid car bomb
08 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy heads for EU showdown
04 Dec 01 | Europe
OSCE moves against terror
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