CEUTA, Spain, (Reuters) – Spanish police have arrested 11 suspected Islamic militants in a raid on a poor neighbourhood in Spain’s North African enclave Ceuta, the Spanish government said on Tuesday.
Those arrested in the raid ordered by Spain’s best-known judge, Baltasar Garzon, included two brothers of Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed, a Spaniard who spent two years in U.S. detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after being captured in Pakistan, court officials said.
The so-called “Spanish Taliban”, who was freed earlier this year after terrorism charges in Spain were overturned, was earlier reported by Spanish media to have been arrested himself but court officials said this was not true.
Local news agency Europa Press said the suspects were linked to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which was blamed for bombings in Casablanca in 2003 which killed 26 people.
About 50 police vehicles carrying armed police entered the Principe Alfonso neighbourhood at 4 a.m. (0300 GMT), a government official said, asking not to be named. Local media reported 300 police were backed by specialist marksman. “This was presumably an Islamist cell which was just developing, so it hadn’t identified targets. They had been under surveillance for some time, and, when we saw they were thinking about moving from fanatical talk to action we arrested them,” Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Spanish radio from Algeria, where he is on a visit.
One of those arrested was a Moroccan citizen with a Spanish work permit and the others were Spanish, Rubalcaba said, according to the radio, adding that Moroccan intelligence helped provide information for the operation. The raid was continuing, the Interior Ministry official said.
There was no indication as to whether the arrested suspects were targetting Spain, but newspaper El Pais reported that Spanish intelligence detected a declaration of war against Spain posted on an al Qaeda linked website earlier this year.
The Islamist posting called for the “liberation” of the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which have been in Spanish hands for hundreds of years but have large Muslim populations, El Pais said.
On March 11, 2004, Islamist bombers killed 191 people in bomb attacks against commuter trains in Spain’s capital Madrid, in an attack which investigators believe was carried out by a group inspired by al Qaeda.
The motivation for that attack is believed to have been Spain’s involvement in the Iraq war. The bombings triggered a surprise election victory for the Socialist Party, and new Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.