16 terror suspects held in Spain
From Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
Wednesday, June 15, 2005 Posted: 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)>
MADRID, Spain (CNN) — Spanish police have arrested 16 suspected Islamic terrorists, including 11 believed to be linked to the terror network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, officials said Wednesday.
The other five suspects were linked to last year’s Madrid train bombings, the Interior Ministry said.
"Many of them had declared their willingness to become martyrs for Islam, which demonstrates they are extremely radical and dangerous," the ministry said in a statement.
The 11 suspects linked to al-Zarqawi constituted an Islamic support network in Spain with a jihad ideology for the Iraqi cause, the statement said.
They were allegedly recruited by a network run by two Moroccans who formerly worked out of Syria, authorities said.
The 11 aimed to recruit radicals willing to commit suicide attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, according to the statement.
Many of the 11 suspects had agreed to become suicide bombers themselves, authorities said, adding they were willing "to commit a suicide terrorist attack at the time that their bosses considered it necessary."
Authorities identified the alleged leader of the 11 suspects as Samir Tahtah, 28, who has a previous police record for document forgery.
He was arrested at his home in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, near Barcelona. Authorities said he was involved in the recruitment of radicals to be sent to Iraq.
"He coordinated the communication with the leaders of the network abroad and the sending of recruits to commit terrorist actions in Iraq," the statement said.
Three other suspects were also suspected of recruitment, but most of the 11 were involved mainly in petty crimes, such as drug trafficking, to raise funds for the network, the statement said.
Some were also involved in delivering the funds to their native countries, the statement said.
Al-Zarqawi is accused of being al Qaeda’s main operative in Iraq and responsible for many of the terrorist attacks there.
The ministry said the 11 suspects belonged to a terrorist network that was established in Spain and linked to Ansar al-Islam, thought to have ties with the terror group run by al-Zarqawi.
Mass murder charges
Of the five people arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombings, authorities identified the prime suspect as Moroccan native Mohamed Larbi Ben Sellam, 28.
Larbi Ben Sellam is accused of mass murder for each of the 191 people who died in the attacks against Madrid commuter trains on March 11, 2004, the statement said.
Authorities have linked him to two other prime suspects in the train bombings: a Tunisian man who blew himself up as police closed in on his hideout, and an Egyptian man currently in Italian custody.
Only about eight other suspects in the bombings face mass murder charges. Most of the others suspects, more than 100 in all, face lesser charges, including belonging to a terrorist organization.
A trial in the train bombings could begin by later this year.
Larbi Ben Sellam was already wanted on an international arrest warrant in a separate failed plot to blow up the main anti-terrorism court in Spain with a truck bomb.
He was arrested at his home in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, the same town near Barcelona where one of the 11 suspects linked to al-Zarqawi was detained.
More than 500 police officers were involved in the arrests, which were made in Madrid, Barcelona, the eastern Valencia region, the southern region of Andalusia, and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Morocco’s north coast.
The arrests were carried out Tuesday and possibly earlier.
Overall, 13 of the 16 suspects arrested are natives of Morocco — including two born in Ceuta. Two of the 16 are from Algeria, and police said they were checking the background of the other suspect.
In a related development, the ministry statement said a fugitive suspect in the train bombings, Mohamed Afalah, "presumably" committed a suicide attack in Iraq sometime between May 12-19, although it added the target of the attack had not been determined.
The latest arrests come as a separate trial continues in its third month in Madrid against 24 suspected al Qaeda members, including three who are charged with helping to plan the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.