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Hitmen 'killed matadors' horses'

Luis Domecq takes part in a mounted bullfight at the San Fermin fair in Pamplona (6 July 2005)
Luis Domecq and his brother said they hoped justice would at last be done

Three mounted matadors are on trial in Spain accused of hiring Colombian hitmen to set fire to a dozen horses belonging to a rival in June 2001.

Six animals belonging to the Domecq family died after petrol bombs were put in their horseboxes. Six others took years to recover from serious burns.

But they were not the intended target, prosecutors said. The hitmen were meant to kill those of another man.

Police said the crime was unprecedented in the history of mounted bullfighting.

The Domecq family has reportedly requested a sentence of three years in jail for those responsible, plus compensation for the loss of the six horses.

The matadors accused, Jose Miguel Callejon Martin, his father Jose Antonio Callejon Amoros and Manuel Buendia, deny the charges.

'Sad episode'

Prosecutors said the three men had contracted three Colombian nationals to kill the horses of Sergio Galan, a rival mounted matador or "rejoneador" (lancer).

But the Colombians - whose whereabouts remain unknown - mistakenly targeted those belonging to Luis and Antonio Domecq, who had taken part in a bullfight with Mr Galan at Las Ventas in Madrid, the court in Toledo was told.

When they set off for home, the hitmen followed the Domecqs' horseboxes and pushed two petrol bombs through their windows in the car park of a roadside restaurant in Ocana, the court heard.

Prosecutors said they had evidence including recorded telephone conversations which incriminated the Callejons and Mr Buendia in the crime. Their lawyer insisted they were innocent.

The arson attack meant the Domecqs' highly-trained and valuable horses were unable to take part in 60 bullfights during the 2001 competition season.

"We are grieved at the memory of such a sad episode for our family... but are filled with the hope that at last justice will be done," the Domecq brothers said in a statement before the start of the trial.

In a mounted bullfight, rejoneadores ride highly-trained horses and use a "rejon", a short, broad blade fixed to a shaft, to kill the bull.

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