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Spanish judge to charge about 30 in March 11 probe

Written by: Staff

MADRID, Mar 28 (Reuters) A judge is due to charge about 30 people with involvement in the Madrid train bombings in the next days, wrapping up a two-year investigation into the Islamist fundamentalist attacks which killed 191 people.

Judge Juan del Olmo plans to close his investigation by April 10, judicial sources said, the first step in a long legal process leading to a trial.

So far 116 people have been named as suspects in connection with the attacks, in which bombs packed into sports bags exploded on four crowded commuter trains on March 11, 2004.

Twenty-five people are behind bars.

Del Olmo's report, which runs to more than 1,000 pages, will firm up the charges against those who will stand trial.

The case is unprecedented in Spain in terms of bloodshed and complexity and the trial is unlikely to start before spring 2007. Even then, the case could last about 10 months because so many people and piles of evidence are involved.

Before the case goes to trial it has to pass through an initial appeal period but the High Court judge's report will be the main basis for the trial, legal experts say.

The March 11 bombs injured more than 2,000 people and traumatised Spain, already worn by years of bombs and shootings by Basque guerrilla group ETA, which last week declared a truce.

Prosecutors say the 10 train bombs were set off by mobile phones that were traced to a shop in central Madrid, run by one of two main suspects expected to take the stand.

Seven of the train bombers blew themselves up three weeks after the attack when police surrounded their block of flats in southern Madrid. Another fled Spain and died fighting in Iraq.

While Madrid got back on its feet quite quickly after the bombings, politicians have continued to squabble about who knew what when, and how that information was used.

The blasts hit Madrid just four days before a general election that unexpectedly unseated the right-wing party of Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of U.S. President George Bush.

Aznar's Popular Party (PP) had taken a hard line against ETA during its administration and painted the Basque separatists as the main suspects for the attacks, despite increasing evidence pointing to Al Qaeda-linked cells and therefore a possible link to the US-led war in Iraq, which Aznar had backed.

When Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took over as prime minister he recalled Spanish troops from Iraq.

Documents declassified last year showed that four months before the bombs, the National Intelligence Center sent a report to the Interior Ministry warning of a possible Islamist attack.


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