Spanish police arrested 16 suspected members linked to al-Qaeda network on Friday 24 who were thought to be preparing chemical attacks, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said. U.S. officials said the men may have links to the deadly ricin poison case in the United Kingdom. Court sources said the suspects may be linked to a suspected al-Qaeda explosives expert who was arrested in Paris last year with plans to blow up important French buildings.
The police in raids searched, at the same time, 12 apartments in the Catalonian country and swooped on 16 suspects. The swoop by some 150 Spanish polices was on a request from French authorities. Police using sniffer dogs took part in the pre-dawn raids on apartments in provinces of Barcelona, Girona and Castellу. The investigations of police discovered explosives, bomb components and radio transmission equipment used to communicate with Islamic extremists in Algeria and Chechnya, Spain’s Interior Minister Angel Acebes said. Four terrorist suspects arrested in France in December had traveled to Spain and held intensive contacts with some of those arrested on Friday, Acebes said. French police say those four were planning bomb or gas attacks in France and Russia. British police have carried out a series of arrests this month since the deadly poison ricin was found in a London apartment on January 5.
Acebes said that those detained were mostly Algerian citizens suspected members of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an Algerian extremist organization, and “the network that has been dismantled had connections to the Islamic terrorists detained recently in France and the United Kingdom”. Acebes said police also found containers of suspicious resins, fuels and other chemicals that were being analyzed, as well as electronic components, detonators and timing and remote control devices of the type used in bombs, as well as many documents, including false passports.
Aznar explains in a press conference in A Coruсa that “the police have broken up a major terrorist network ... linked in this case to the Algerian Salafist Group, a splinter of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which has clear connections with the criminal organisation of bin Laden”. Spanish Prime Minister also said, like Acebes, that “the network had connections with terrorists recently arrested in France and the United Kingdom, and they were preparing attacks with explosives and chemical materials”. There were no details on the possible targets of the alleged attacks.
Court sources however said the number of people arrested was 19 and that as many of eight of those would be set free shortly for lack of evidence. Friday’s operation was authorized by Guillermo Ruiz Polanco, a High Court judge, and began at least a year and half ago when Spain’s High Court authorized telephone wiretaps, said court sources. The detained, who were being held on suspicion of belonging to an armed group, were transferred to Madrid for interrogation.
In Spain 35 suspects have been arrested, the people are believed to have links to al-Qaeda since the September 11, 2001. Most remain in jail; but several have been released on bail. Among them were eight men arrested in November 2001 suspected of having played a role in the airliner attacks on New York and Washington. Mohamed Atta, one of the pilots in the World Trade Center attacks, is believed to have held meetings with other al-Qaeda members in Spain in the year running up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Before Friday's raids, the most recent arrest was made December 26 when an Algerian man was detained in La Rioja on suspicion of links to the GIA and of having trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The raids followed investigations carried out after the arrest in June 2001 of suspected Islamic terrorist Mohammed Bensakhria, allegedly an important operative for bin Laden who was extradited to France, in southeastern Spain, the private news agency Europa Press said.
David Sendra Spain Special to PRAVDA.Ru