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Spain arrests 20 alleged islamist militants { December 2005 }

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Spain arrests 20 alleged Islamist militants
Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:58 PM GMT

By Elizabeth Fullerton

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain on Tuesday arrested 20 people suspected of recruiting Islamist fighters for Iraq, and said one of the recruits had killed 19 Italians in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2003.

Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said it was possible that the alleged militants arrested in the overnight operation may have planned "violent actions" in Europe, although there was no evidence of any imminent attack in Spain.

Police broke up two alleged al Qaeda-linked cells in raids in the Madrid and Barcelona areas and the Basque country, arresting 15 Moroccans, three Spaniards, one Turk and one Algerian, Alonso told a news conference.

Alonso said their mission was to recruit and provide financial and logistical support to fighters sent to Iraq. They had connections in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

The Interior Ministry said it had proven the Barcelona-area cell was responsible for recruiting an Algerian suicide bomber who killed 19 Italians and nine Iraqis in an attack on an Italian police base in southern Iraq in November 2003.

Laboratories run by Spanish and Italian security forces had worked together to prove this link, it said in a statement.

The Nassiriya attack was the deadliest on Italian forces since World War Two and caused deep shock in Italy.

Last month, Spain arrested 16 people accused of recruiting Islamist militants and a further two gave themselves up.

A judge jailed six of them on suspicion of recruiting people to send as suicide bombers or insurgents to Iraq, Chechnya or Kashmir. The other 12 were released pending further investigation.

That investigation focussed on a mosque in the southern Spanish city of Malaga that Spanish officials said was frequented by people with radical Islamist beliefs.

Tuesday's raids were the latest in a series of operations against suspected Islamist militants in Spain since the al Qaeda-linked Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people on March 11, 2004.

(Additional reporting by Blanca Rodriguez, Emma Ross-Thomas)

Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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