Spain arrests 11 over alleged Islamic State links

Spain arrests 11 over alleged Islamic State links
File photo of a Spanish police officer standing guard in Barcelona.

MADRID - Spanish police Wednesday arrested 11 people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, including six Muslim converts, some of whom intended to launch attacks in the Catalonia region, officials said.

It was the latest of scores of such raids as Europe seeks to stop recruitment by the extremist group, which has claimed the killings of many foreign hostages.

Wednesday's arrests followed a year-long operation involving hundreds of police who made 13 raids around Barcelona and five other areas of the northeastern Catalonia region.

"We are dealing with a cell openly linked to Daesh," another name for the group calling itself Islamic State, said Catalonia's regional interior minister Ramon Espadaler.

"It recruited young people and radicalised them. It sent some of them to Syria and Iraq and had also set up an operational cell which was willing to launch attacks in Catalonia."

He added however that "at no time did the existence of this cell pose a danger because it was under surveillance at all times."

Police arrested 10 men and a woman aged between 17 and 45. Five of them were Moroccans, five Spanish and one Paraguayan - the latter six converts to Islam - Espadaler said.

They face charges including belonging to a terrorist group, recruitment and indoctrination, and incitement to terrorism.

Salafist mosques

Spain has raided a number of alleged recruitment cells, most of them in its North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla as well as in Catalonia.

On April 1, a Moroccan living in Catalonia was remanded in custody after allegedly seeking to send her 16-year-old twins to fight with jihadists in Syria, a year after another of her sons died in that country.

Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said that of the 1,264 mosques in Spain, 98 are devoted to the hardline Salafist branch of Islam. Of those, 50 are in Catalonia, he told Catalunya Radio.

Espadaler said, however, that "it would be outrageous to say that mosques in Catalonia are preaching" jihadism.

"There are some places that pose a problem and we are monitoring them."

Scores of alleged Islamists facing terrorism charges are being held in Spain, authorities say.

About 100 people from Spain are suspected of having joined jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria, and fear they may return to launch attacks.

Hundreds more such radicals from France, Britain and Germany are also thought to have travelled to those countries to fight.

"The jihadist phenomenon is a reality," Espadaler said.

"It exists in our country, in our neighbouring European countries and worldwide, but we also have police capable of detecting radicalisation and of fighting this phenomenon."

The network broken up on Wednesday had sent four jihadists to conflict zones but three of them were arrested in Bulgaria in December, Espadaler said.

An international arrest warrant has been issued for the fourth.

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