Spanish police have arrested 20 people accused of belonging to two al-Qaida-linked cells. The cells' main mission was to send activists to fight in Iraq.
In raids beginning in the early hours, Spanish police arrested 20 people accused of belonging to two al-Qaida-linked cells. Sixteen were arrested near Barcelona. Three people were arrested in and around Madrid and one person was arrested in the Basque town of Lasarte in northern Spain.
Fifteen of them are Moroccan, three have Spanish citizenship and one is Turkish. Most of the suspects were arrested in the Barcelona suburb of Vilanova I la Geltrú and included the Imam of the local mosque.
Spanish Interior Minister José Antonio Alonso said at a press conference that the two cells, which worked closely together, were very well organized - better so than other cells recently dismantled - and that they had links with groups in France, Belgium and The Netherlands as well as with Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and Iraq.
Alonso said the Vilanova cell was dedicated to recruiting, indoctrinating and providing economic and logistic support to Islamic extremists to fight in Iraq. He added that several Moroccans recruited by this cell were arrested in Syria in 2004 and sent back to Morocco after having fought in Iraq, alongside top al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Alonso also pointed out that there were strong indications that this group sent the Algerian suicide bomber who attacked an Italian base in Nasiriyah killing 19 Italian military and civilian personnel on November 12, 2003.
This is the second major operation against Islamic extremists in less than a month. On December 19, 16 people were arrested in southern and eastern Spain accused of collaborating in the recruitment of new activists. Spanish authorities arrested 90 people suspected of belonging to Islamic terrorist groups in 2005. Around 300 have been arrested since September 11, 2001.