MADRID, Spain (AP) – A Syrian-born businessman was sentenced to 27 years in prison Monday after being convicted of leading a terrorist cell and conspiring to commit murder in the Sept. 11 attacks. He was cleared of a more serious charge in Europe’s biggest trial of suspected al-Qaida members.
Another man accused of helping one of the hijackers set up a key meeting was acquitted of being an accessory to murder but was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Sixteen other people were convicted of collaborating with or belonging to the terror cell.
A third suspect facing specific Sept. 11 charges over detailed video he shot of the World Trade Center and other U.S. landmarks was cleared of all charges.
The three main suspects _ Imad Yarkas, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun and Driss Chebli – had been charged as accessories to mass murder and could have faced sentences of more than 74,000 years each – 25 for each of the 2,973 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Prosecutor Pedro Rubira had asked for what he called “exemplary sentences” to show terror could be fought in court, not with Guantanamo-style detention camps.
Yarkas led a cell that raised money and recruited men for Osama bin Laden’s terror group and “turned itself over completely to fulfilling the sinister designs decided by al-Qaida,” according to the three-judge panel of the National Court.
But it said, “the only thing proven is Yarkas’ conspiracy with the suicide terrorist” Mohamed Atta and other members of the al-Qaida cell based in Hamburg, Germany that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
Twenty-one other people also stood trial but on charges not directly related to Sept. 11. Of those, 16 were convicted of belonging to or collaborating with a terrorist organization and five were acquitted.
One of the 16 was Tayssir Alouni, a correspondent for the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera. He was convicted of collaboration and sentenced to seven years in jail.