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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Madrid Train Bombing Trial Begins

MADRID -- The trial of 29 suspects in the March 11, 2004, Madrid terrorist attacks began Thursday under tight security, with survivors and mourners getting their first close-up look at the defendants accused of a massacre that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.

The first defendant to take the stand, Egyptian Rabei Osman, refused to answer any questions -- even from his own lawyer -- and said he did not recognize the charges against him.

"Your honor, with all due respect, I do not acknowledge any accusations or charges," Osman said calmly. "I am not going to answer any questions, including from my defense attorney."

When Osman tried to explain his reasons, a judge cut him off and ordered the prosecutor to pose the questions she had planned. Osman, who was arrested in Italy and later convicted of terrorism, allegedly bragged in intercepted phone calls that the Madrid train bombings were his idea, and is charged as an alleged ringleader.

The bombings were the worst-ever attack linked to Islamic militants in Europe, and the trial has dredged up painful memories of what Spaniards call the nation's most traumatic event since the civil war in the 1930s. Images of body bags and twisted train cars were played and replayed on Spanish television Thursday, a grim reminder of the devastation left by 10 backpack bombs that exploded on four commuter trains during morning rush hour.

Eighteen of the suspects watched the proceedings from a bulletproof chamber, packed together on wooden benches, while the other 11, who are out on bail, sat in the main section of the courtroom.

Many of the suspects in the bulletproof chamber averted their glance from victims' relatives sitting in the small, heavily guarded courtroom, and some even turned their backs to them.

Conchi Decos, who lost her husband in the attacks and was inside the courtroom Thursday, said her heart dropped when the suspects filed in. "You want to insult them, to say what you think. But instead we just said it quietly to ourselves," she said during a break in the proceedings.

Pilar Manjon, president of an association of March 11 victims who lost her 20-year-old son in the massacre, said she stood up to get a better view when the defendants came in. "They lowered their heads," she said.

Seven lead defendants face prison terms of up to 30 years for each of the killings and 18 years apiece for 1,820 attempted murders. But under Spanish law, the maximum time anyone can serve for a terrorist conviction is 40 years.

Security was extremely tight for the trial, with police on horseback patrolling outside the court, and bomb-sniffing dogs searching for explosives.

Testimony is expected to last more than five months, and a verdict is expected in late October.