MADRID,(Reuters) – Spain said on Thursday it had arrested a Moroccan man suspected of heading two al Qaeda-linked cells and helping men involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings flee the country.
In an Interior Ministry statement, the man was named as Omar Nakhcha, the alleged ring-leader of two cells believed to have recruited Islamist fighters for Iraq. The units were dismantled by police earlier this week and 20 people were arrested.
Nakhcha, 23, was arrested in the northeastern province of Barcelona.
Larbi Ben Sellam, a suspected Islamist militant arrested in June last year, told police that Nakhcha helped three suspects Mohamed Afalah, Mohamed Belhadj and Daouh Ouhnane to escape from Spain after the Madrid bombings, the ministry said.
Nakhcha allegedly arranged from Belgium for the three men to travel to Syria and then Iraq, and helped the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group organise the travel of volunteer fighters between Iraq and Europe.
“He supplied the terrorists with false documentation, as well as those who returned to Europe to be integrated into Islamist cells after spending some time in Iraq,” the statement said.
The two cells operated in Madrid, Barcelona and the Basque country and had connections in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the Interior Ministry said.
One of the cells broken up on Tuesday was allegedly responsible for recruiting an Algerian who killed 19 Italians and nine Iraqis in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2003.
Spanish police have arrested more than 200 suspected Islamist militants since the March 11, 2004 Madrid attacks, which killed 191 people.