Spanish judge due to rule on Madrid train bombs

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MADRID, Oct 31 (Reuters) A Spanish court will deliver verdicts today on 28 people accused of playing a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, ending a politically charged trial into Europe's deadliest al Qaeda inspired attack.

Ten bombs ripped through four commuter trains early on March 11, 2004, strewing the tracks with bodies. The Islamist bombings killed 191 people and injured 1,800 when mobile phones set off homemade bombs packed into sports bags.

The bombings also reshaped Spanish politics as voters spurned a conservative government that at first blamed the blasts on Basque separatists ETA.

Twenty-nine people, mostly Moroccans and Spaniards, have been tried for crimes ranging from masterminding the attack to stealing dynamite from a mine in northern Spain. One has since been cleared.

In the four and a half month trial, the court heard how petty criminals met in fast food restaurants to plot the bombings.

After a four month break to consider the evidence, Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez will call the court to sit at about 11 a.m. 1530 IST and read a summary of the trial.

He will then announce which suspects have been found guilty or innocent and read out sentences.

The eight main suspects face multiple sentences that could total 39,000 years for each, although such figures are academic because under Spanish law nobody can stay in prison for more than 40 years.

All suspects have pleaded innocent and most are expected to appeal against their sentences.

The verdicts will close another chapter on the bombings.

But with a general election less than five months away, politicians and the media are still bickering about whether ETA was involved in the attack, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

The blasts hit three days before the last elections, which the governing centre-right Popular Party had looked set to win.

The then government's insistence that ETA planted the bombs backfired when evidence piled up to show they were the work of radical Islamists and were linked to Spain's backing of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Days later, voters turned out en masse and brought in the Socialists, who quickly pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq.

''(The Popular Party) had better prepare themselves psychologically to accept what they have failed to accept since March 2004,'' Socialist party member Antonio Hernando said.

Popular Party Secretary General Angel Acebes, who was interior minister in 2004, said his party wanted ''justice for the victims, for democracy, so an attack of this magnitude never happens again''.

Reuters BJR VP0525

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