Madrid, Spain A Syrian-born businessman was sentenced to 27 years in prison Monday after being convicted of leading a terrorist cell and conspiring to commit murder in the 9-11 attacks. But he was cleared of a more serious charge in Europe's biggest trial of suspected al-Qaida members.
Another man accused of helping one of the hijackers set up a key meeting was acquitted of being an accessory to murder but was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Sixteen other people were convicted of collaborating with or belonging to the terror cell.
A third suspect facing specific 9-11 charges over video he shot of the World Trade Center and other U.S. landmarks was cleared of all charges.
The three main suspects - Imad Yarkas, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun and Driss Chebli - had been charged as accessories to murder and could have faced sentences of more than 74,000 years each - 25 for each of the 2,973 people killed in the 9-11 attacks on the United States.
Prosecutor Pedro Rubira had asked for what he called "exemplary sentences" to show terror could be fought in court, not with Guantanamo-style detention camps.
Yarkas led a cell that raised money and recruited men for Osama bin Laden's terror group and "turned itself over completely to fulfilling the sinister designs decided by al-Qaida," according to the three-judge panel of the National Court.
But it said, "the only thing proven is Yarkas' conspiracy with the suicide terrorist" Mohamed Atta and other members of the al-Qaida cell based in Hamburg, Germany that carried out the 9-11 attacks.
Yarkas' lawyer, Jacobo Teijelo, also said it was "absurd" for the judges to convict his client of conspiracy because that charge would apply to a crime that was not committed.
The verdicts capped a 10-year investigation into Islamic militancy in Spain. After 9-11, Spanish police suspected many men they had been monitoring were involved. Judge Baltasar Garzon started making arrests two months after the attacks.