Madrid, Spain – Three men of Pakistani origin denied any wrongdoing Thursday as they went on trial over an alleged plot to stage suicide attacks in Barcelona on orders from the Pakistan Taliban.
Police foiled the alleged plan with a series of raids in January 2008 in Spain's second-largest city, after a member of the cell designated to blow himself up got cold feet and alerted authorities, a Spanish prosecutor said.
The 11 men on trial include nine men of Pakistani nationality or origin and two from India. They have all pleaded innocent.
Malik Qadeer, 33, accused of belonging to a part of the cell tasked with making bombs for the attacks, said he is a butane gas delivery man who knows nothing about electronics or chemicals.
"I don't even know how to connect two cables," he told the National Court. Qadeer said he had never even heard the word Taliban until he moved to Spain in 2001, and said he knew nothing of any plot to bomb the metro in Barcelona. "Not even a beast would do that," he said.
His 28-year-old roommate, Shaib Iqbal, also denied any knowledge of the alleged plot.
One of the plan's alleged ringleaders, 40-year-old imam Maroof Ahmed Mirza, refused to testify. Another accused leader, Mohammad Ayud Elahi Bibi, 65, said he practiced a peaceful version of Islam.
After Thursday's session, the trial was scheduled to resume Monday.
When the plot was made public last year, it gave Spaniards a chilling reminder of the Madrid terror bombings of March 2004: packed commuter trains ripped apart by 10 backpack bombs that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800. At the time, a general election was three days away, and Islamic militants who claimed responsibility for the Madrid massacre said it was revenge for the presence of Spanish peacekeepers in Iraq.
In 2008, public transport was allegedly targeted again, a general election was just two months away and the attack was allegedly planned because Spain has troops in Afghanistan, prosecutor Vicente Gonzalez Mota has said.
But there have been doubts as to how close the Barcelona cell actually was to staging what would have been Spain's first suicide terrorist attack.
In a charge sheet released several weeks ago, Gonzalez Mota's only mention of explosives was to say police who made some of the arrests seized 18 grams — less than an ounce — of white powder that came from emptying out fireworks. He said police also found timers, steel balls and air-gun pellets to serve as shrapnel, and other material for making bombs.
When indictments were handed down in June of this year, Investigating Magistrate Ismael Moreno wrote that the cell had achieved "operational capability" in terms of manpower and "was apparently very close to achieving full technical capability in terms of explosive devices."
However, he said the amount of explosives found was enough for training purposes but not to stage a major attack.
Perhaps because of this lack of firepower, the cell is not accused of actually conspiring to stage a terror attack but rather of belonging to a terrorist organization.
The cell acted under the inspiration of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban Movement, led at the time by Baitullah Mehsud, and plans for the Barcelona attack were later claimed in a video by Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the group, Gonzalez Mota wrote.