Misc 10/11/2020

Trial of Ramblas terror attacks starts

The Catalan police does not seek to vindicate itself in a session marked by the judge's outbursts

Ot Serra
4 min
Mohammed Houli, Driss Oukabir i Said ben Iazza, acusats al judici pels atemptats del 17-A

San Fernando de HenaresIt is difficult not to think about ex Catalan police major Josep Lluís Trapero when the trial for the attacks of 17 August 2017 in Barcelona and Cambrils starts at the headquarters of the Spanish High Court in San Fernando de Henares, where he has spent so many days. After his recent acquittal in the trial for the referendum of October 2017, it does not seem crazy to wonder if instead of sitting in the dock for the events of the trial, the major should not be summoned as a witness to talk about the terrorist cell that shook Catalonia three years ago. Some of the accusations chose against calling him because of his procedural situation, "out of respect", according to sources consulted. The image of the public prosecutor Miguel Ángel Carballo using as his main witness in the charges against the alleged jihadists the man whom he wanted to convict for sedition only a few months ago would have been devilish.

In press conferences and splashed across T-shirts, the major was, during those days of August, the visible face of the Catalan police, the Mossos d'Esquadra. The body took a step forward with the aim of transmitting a message of confidence to its citizens, and disarticulated the group of attackers by "neutralizing" (i.e. killing) them, not without some criticism. Trapero's press conferences put him in the limelight, unlike what will now happen during the trial. It is not only Trapero who is not summoned to appear: no high ranking Mosso will. And those who do, hide their faces, as was shown this Tuesday by the appearance of Inspector 1395, the instructor of the investigation of the August 2017 attacks.

There is no intention of "vindicating" the role of the body in those days, the chief commissioner, Eduard Sallent, acknowledges to ARA. As he did during the Trapero trial, Sallent has gone to the High Court to "accompany" the first witnesses to appear, the aforementioned inspector and sub-inspector 8261, who was summoned for this session but will testify tomorrow. Sallent points out that even he could have participated, because at the time of the events he was the deputy general commissioner of information. Sources from the Public Prosecutor's Office and the State Attorney's Office agree, however, that the most relevant thing for the case is the presence of the investigators.

The theoretical protagonists

Although the place and some faces in the audience coincide with those of the Trapero trial, the real protagonists are others. It is shocking to exchange glances with the three alleged terrorists, locked in a soundproof glass cubicle where they can follow the session without handcuffs or surveillance. Every time they leave, they are back in police custody. Driss Oukabir, who looked younger in the pictures which circulated in the media after his arrest, now looks tired. The bags under his eyes stand out and it is noticeable that he is older - 31 - than the other alleged cell members for whom he allegedly rented the van on the Rambla.

Despite being rather brief, Oukabir's interrogation is the longest, and he insists on dissociating himself from the terrorists. He led a "normal" life, taking cocaine, alcohol and joints, and sleeping with girls, as he told the court. Later, during the statement of the Mosso d'Esquadra in charge of the investigation, he shook his head and showed his disapproval. When there is talk of a call with Younes Abouyaaqoub, the driver of the van, he gaze blankly. Mohamed Houli shares the attitude, showing his repentance for the events. The author of a recording in which he sees the terrorists preparing the explosives, he claims that in reality he was pretending to collude with the members of the cell: "They could have killed me at any moment," he says.

To the left of the space reserved for the defendants, Saïd bien Iazza is the one furthest from the position of the court, and in order not to have his head bowed he constantly watches the television broadcast of the trial on a screen he has in a straight line. He has the audience in front of him, who he watches. It is not until the first witness statement that the defendants can be seen exchanging impressions, especially at Oukabir's behest.

An "impertinent" judge

As demonstrated from the beginning, however, the spice will not be added by the defendants but by the judge. At the onset, he has to deal with Oukabir's lawyer, who threatens to leave unless he can change seat - he was right behind the prosecution. "You may not leave the courtroom!", the judge shouts. He then proceeds directly to the interrogation of the defendants, ignoring the preliminaries. "No one has the floor!" he cries out in the face of multiple protests.

Alfonso Guevara is short and hunchbacked and from the position he adopts, with his head resting on the back, it seems that he is stretched out on the chair. He tends to close his eyes when he has to make sharp interruptions - quite a few - to the different people who intervene, who are many. "Impertinent" is the word he will use most to point out an inappropriate comment, in an authoritarian tone that makes the "Let's see" of Manuel Marchena during the trial of the Independence bid seem like a nice invitation to ask another question. "He's a witness, not a fortune teller," Guevara said at one point.

Some in the audience can't help but laugh behind their mask at the judge's outbursts, including the sudden closure of the first session of a bland trial, without the material authors of the attacks, without high state officials and without Trapero.