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Suspected Islamic Extremists Arrested in Spain - 2003-03-08


Spanish police have arrested five suspected Islamic extremists. The interior minister says they are suspected of diverting funds to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes told a news conference Saturday that the four Spaniards and one Pakistani citizen arrested Friday night are suspected of being part of al-Qaida's financial network.

He said the suspects are being investigated for alleged involvement in financing al-Qaida activities and for possible links to a terrorist attack against a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, last April. 19 people were killed in that attack.

Mr. Acebes said the five also were suspected of diverting profits from their businesses to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.

The four Spaniards were arrested near Valencia, while the Pakistani was apprehended in the northern city of Logrono. In the operation, police have searched 12 residences and seized documents, but no weapons.

Mr. Acebes underlined the importance of international collaboration in the arrests. The operation, carried out at the request of a French court investigating the bombing in Djerba, counted on the collaboration of German and French police, as well as U.S., Portuguese, Swiss and Tunisian investigators.

According to an Interior Ministry statement, police investigations point to the existence in Spain of a complex network of agents and enterprises connected to al-Qaida. Its purpose, the statement says, is to send funds to different parts of the world through ordinary banking systems, allowing al-Qaida to finance its operations and fund its agents.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Spanish police have arrested more than 30 people suspected of links with al-Qaida.

The last major operation in Spain against suspected members of the international terrorist network took place near Barcelona in late January.