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Three Moroccans charged in Madrid train bombings

MADRID -- A key suspect wept and another shouted "I am innocent!" during questioning by a Spanish judge, who charged them and another Moroccan yesterday with mass killings in the Madrid terror attacks.

The development, which stops short of a formal indictment, marked the first time authorities have publicly accused the three of direct involvement in Spain's deadliest terrorist attack, which killed 202 people. Earlier, the Moroccans had been accused of tampering with the cellphone equipment found on an unexploded bomb.

Suspicion has centered on Moroccan extremists said to be linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and on the terrorist organization itself. In an unauthenticated videotape, a man claiming to speak on behalf of Al Qaeda said the group carried out the attack in reprisal for Spain's backing of the US-led war in Iraq.

The closed-door sessions before National Court Judge Juan del Olmo yesterday were at times tumultuous, a court official said. She said the key Moroccan suspect, Jamal Zougam, wept and another Moroccan, Mohamed Bekkali, arrived shouting: "I am innocent! I am innocent!"

The third Moroccan, Mohamed Chaoui, told the judge he had had little contact with Zougam, his half brother.

The Moroccans were charged with 190 killings, 1,400 attempted killings, and membership in a terrorist group, the official said. Although 202 people died in the March 11 bombings, only 190 bodies have been identified.

Two Indian men, Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, were charged with collaborating with a terrorist group and falsifying a sales document, the court official said without elaborating.

The five suspects, who have been in custody since March 13, were brought individually before del Olmo for the hearings, which began Thursday night and lasted until dawn yesterday.

The three Moroccans said they were home in bed when the bombs went off, and denied having anything to do with the attack.

The five suspects, who had been kept in a holding cell in a police station, were sent to Soto del Real jail on Madrid's northern outskirts early yesterday.

The latest charges mean they can be jailed for up to two years while investigators gather evidence. After that, they can be held an additional two years, be indicted and put on trial, or be released if there is insufficient evidence to try them.

Yesterday, del Olmo ordered them held incommunicado, barring contact with their lawyers and family members.

The El Pais newspaper reported yesterday that police searching the telephone services shop where Zougam and Bekkali worked found a piece of a cellphone used in a backpack bomb that failed to explode during the Madrid attacks. The cellphone, which apparently was set to connect to a detonator, was recovered and analyzed, the newspaper reported, citing police sources.

The death toll in the train attacks matches that of the Bali, Indonesia, nightclub bombings in October 2002, making them the deadliest terror strikes since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Another five suspects were arrested Thursday in the Madrid bombings, including Mohamed El Hadi Chedadi, the brother of Said Chedadi, an alleged Al Qaeda operative arrested in 2001. Morocco's communications minister, Nabil Benabdellah, identified two others as Moroccans Farid Oulad Ali, a construction worker, and Abderrahim Zbakh, who received an undergraduate degree in chemistry in Tetouan, Morocco.

The three had lived in Spain since at least 1999, Benabdellah said.

Jean-Charles Brisard, a French private investigator, identified a fourth suspect as Moroccan Saad Houssaini, who was named in an investigation of Al Qaeda operatives in Spain by Judge Baltasar Garzon.

The fifth suspect holds Spanish citizenship and was arrested in the Asturias region of northern Spain, for investigation of robbery of explosives, police said.

Authorities contend the suspect may have had a direct role in the bombings and in the May 2003 suicide attacks that killed 33 people and 12 bombers in Casablanca, Morocco, said radio station Cadena Ser.

Ten suspects are now in custody for the Madrid bombings. An Algerian who was questioned this week was released yesterday, court officials said.

Intelligence officials from Italy, Britain, Germany, France, and Spain were to meet in Madrid on Monday to review the results of the investigation, Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, told reporters.

Public anger over the Popular Party government's handling of the bombings contributed to its loss in Sunday's elections. Critics accused it of making Spain a target by backing the US-led war in Iraq.

Prime Minister-designate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialists won the elections Sunday, has reiterated campaign pledges to withdraw his country's 1,300 troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes charge.

"We're seeing every day there are more deaths in the occupation phase than the war phase," he said.

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