Shock and anger among Madrid bomb victims

MADRID (Reuters) - Shocked and angry, survivors and relatives of those killed in the Madrid bombings questioned why no one had been convicted of plotting the attacks and said the sentences imposed on the guilty were too short.

Isabel Presa, who lost her youngest son in one of the explosions, shook as she told journalists of her disgust.

“I’m not a judge or a lawyer but this is shameful, outrageous,” she said before breaking down in tears.

Judges found 21 people, mainly Moroccans but also several Spaniards, guilty of involvement in the bombings of commuter trains on the morning of March 11, 2004, that killed 191 people.

Three of the guilty were sentenced to thousands of years in prison. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed or “Mohamed the Egyptian”, accused of being one of the masterminds, was acquitted and the judges also cleared two other men of plotting the attacks.

Sentences were often shorter than prosecutors had requested.

“It has destroyed my life, it has condemned me and my husband to a life sentence, and these people get off scot-free, some already on the street and others to 12 years,” Presa said.

“I have waited three years, and now? Now what?”

Some suspected masterminds are believed to have fled the country and another two alleged ringleaders were among seven men who blew themselves up in a Madrid apartment three weeks after the attacks. Victims’ groups said they would appeal.

“We’re very surprised by the acquittal. If it wasn’t them, we have to find out who it was. Somebody gave the order,” said Jose Maria de Pablos, spokesman for a victims’ association.

Ahmed’s lawyer, whose client is in prison in Italy for another offence, said justice had been done.

“He was condemned by society and by the media but a judge decided that he is innocent - that’s not only good news for myself as his lawyer, but also for Spanish society as a whole,” said Endika Zulueta.

A handful of onlookers and a gaggle of victim’s families shouted abuse as the convoy carrying the convicted left the court complex.

Clara Escribano was on her way to work at the 12th October Hospital in south Madrid when a bomb exploded in her train.

The 49-year-old had three operations following the blast which left her deaf in one ear and with metal plates inserted into her skull.

“I’m not happy. I’m very angry. I can’t work in the same place because of the psychological scars. We will appeal,” she said as prison vans, their sirens blaring, took both the condemned and acquitted away.

Additional reporting by Anna Valderrama