Qaeda suspect tells Spanish court he was a tourist
MADRID - A man charged with mass murder over the Sept. 11 attacks for taking video of the World Trade Center said Wednesday the video was merely part of a series of pictures he took on a long-awaited U.S. holiday in 1997.
Ghasoub al Abrash Ghalyoun, a 39-year-old native of Syria, is one of 24 defendants on trial for belonging to al Qaeda in Spain and one of three charged with 2,500 murders for helping the aircraft hijackers who attacked New York and Washington.
"I didn't just film emblematic centers but all tourist centers. Unfortunately at one of those tourist centers there was the misfortune that happened (on Sept. 11, 2001). Of course, who would have thought it?" testified Ghalyoun, neatly groomed in a tan suit.
Regarding the Hollywood sign, "I couldn't believe I was filming it, I swear to you. This is the sign that you see in all the Hollywood movies," Ghalyoun said with a broad smile.
The case linking Ghalyoun to the World Trade Center attacks -- for which he faces a sentence of 62,500 years in prison if convicted -- is based on the video of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, which investigators allege he later turned over to other suspected members of al Qaeda.
Ghalyoun denied showing the video to anyone but his wife. He also condemned terrorism and denied any ties to extremists.
The video, played for the court, displayed the hand of an amateur cameraman with zoom-ins and cut-aways of the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
There were also pictures of a friend's children and voice-over commentary with phrases like "Ah, Manhattan!" and for a group picture "say cheese."
The separate charge against Ghalyoun of belonging to an armed group is based on his business dealings with other suspects, including Mohamed Ghaleb Kalaje Zouaydi, a co-defendant considered by prosecutors to be the "financial brains" of al Qaeda in Spain.
Ghalyoun, a real estate developer, received about 270,000 euros ($352,800) from Kalaje when Kalaje lived in Saudi Arabia as part of an investment to build on a vacant lot in Madrid. Profits from the deal led to other ventures.
Ghalyoun testified he met the other defendants in the trial -- including Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the alleged founder and leader of al Qaeda's Spanish cell -- at a Madrid mosque.
Ghalyoun has spent much of the past three years in jail and the first three days of the trial locked up with other suspects -- mostly Syrians and North Africans -- in the courtroom's bulletproof glass cubicle.
While on the stand he retracted parts of a 2002 statement to investigators in which he said he believed Barakat Yarkas promoted jihad in discussions at the mosque. Ghalyoun said he was referring to another suspect, Mustafa Setmariam.
The fugitive Setmariam is one of 17 suspects, including Osama bin Laden, who are at large or held by other countries. The State Department has offered a $5 million reward for information about him.
The trial was adjourned until May 4.