Spain's national court found a Syrian man guilty and sentenced to 27 years in prison of helping to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., the first conviction for a direct involvement in the plot.
Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, known as Abu Dahdah, charged of directing a terrorist organization and conspiring in an act of terrorist homicide. He was cleared of the more serious charge of helping carry out the attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, for which the prosecutors had demanded a 74,000-year jail sentence.
"This shows that the frequent criticism of the criminal justice system from the neo-cons in America is not true," said Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University in the U.K. "It is difficult, but it can be made to work, and it is much more satisfactory than a short-cut system like a military tribunal."
Yarkas was leader of an al-Qaeda cell operating in Spain which provided support to the Sept. 11 hijackers, prosecutor Pedro Rubira said during the trial.
Two other men, Dris Chebli and Gashoub Al Abrash, who had also faced 74,000-year jail terms, were cleared of participating in the attacks. Chebli was sentenced to six years for collaborating with a terrorist organization, reports Bloomberg.
According to The New York Times, Yarkas was accused of organizing a meeting in northern Spain in July 2001 in which final preparations for the Sept. 11 attacks are thought to have been made. According to the prosecution, the meeting was attended by Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni suspected of being a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda who played a central role in organizing the attacks.
The verdict is one of the few prominent court victories to come from investigations into the attacks. In April, Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Washington to conspiring to fly planes into American buildings, but he said the plan was unrelated to the Sept. 11 plot. He has yet to be sentenced.
In August, Mounir el-Motassadeq, a Moroccan, was acquitted by a German court of complicity in the attacks, although he was found guilty of belonging to Al Qaeda. Mr. Motassadeq had previously been convicted of involvement in the Sept. 11 plot, but the decision was overturned last year after a court ruled he had been denied a fair trial because of the American refusal to allow testimony from Qaeda suspects in United States custody.
Some U.S. analysts hailed the verdict as at least a partial affirmation of the Spanish approach to fighting Islamic terrorism, which under Judge Baltasar Garzуn has emphasized legal prosecutions over military action and intelligence gathering." This is a clear sign that the rule of law has instruments that can be used to fight terrorism," said Jesъs Nuсez Villaverde, director of the Institute for the Study of Conflicts and Humanitarian Action, a research group in Madrid. "It shows that there are effective methods that are not Guantбnamo."