MADRID (Reuters) - The suspected leader of al Qaeda in Spain travelled with Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta aboard the Barcelona metro in the summer of 2001, a witness has testified.
The testimony last week was the first to directly link lead defendant Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas with Atta, the Egyptian believed to have piloted the first hijacked jetliner into the World Trade Center.
Syrian Barakat Yarkas is one of 24 men on trial for belonging to al Qaeda and one of three charged with mass murder for helping plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Atta travelled in Spain from July 9 to 16 of 2001 for what investigators believe was a final planning session with Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, currently in U.S. custody.
"I am completely, absolutely sure I saw them, without a doubt, the three of them," the witness said, referring to Barakat Yarkas, Atta and bin al-Shaibah, in a video of his testimony reviewed by Reuters on Monday.
The witness, a university professor, appeared in court on Wednesday. The prosecutor had not met the witness until that morning and his testimony was unexpected.
The court ordered his identity be withheld for his protection.
The professor said he saw Atta, Barakat Yarkas and Ramzi bin al-Shaibah on the Barcelona metro in June 2001.
The three men raised suspicion because they were wearing brand new matching black leather jackets during hot weather, and the witness said he spent the next three metro stops studying them.
In the days following Sept. 11, the witness said he recognised Atta's picture because the two had spent that metro ride staring at each other.
"I discovered that he was looking at me, very intently. ... When I see someone looking at me aggressively, I keep staring back. The look he had was exactly the same as in the photograph," the man said.
"I kept looking at him. We didn't like each other," the witness said.
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