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Twenty Suspected of Connection To Terror Recruitment Arrested

By Renwick McLean


The Spanish police arrested 20 people on Tuesday in connection with a recruiting network that, according to the Interior Ministry, sent Islamic militants to join the insurgency in Iraq. One of the militants was an Algerian suspected of killing 19 Italians in a suicide bombing in 2003, the ministry said.

The suspects are the third group that the Spanish have arrested in less than seven months on charges of aiding the insurgency. Spain has made a total of 46 arrests.

Nearly two years after the train bombings in Madrid killed 191 people on March 11, 2004, fears are growing that the country is becoming increasingly fertile ground for the recruitment of Islamic extremists.

The network just broken up was the most sophisticated of those uncovered so far, the ministry said. Cells based in Barcelona and Madrid raised money, falsified documents, recruited, and indoctrinated potential extremists, it said.

The recruits were then sent on to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the American forces’ most wanted man in Iraq, and other militant leaders, the ministry said.

The network had links with militant groups in countries including France, Belgium, Holland, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, and Syria, the ministry said, without offering details.

“This operation shows once again that the government is in a permanent fight against international terrorism, a task that we must pursue with all possible attention and determination,” Jose Antonio Alonso, the interior minister, said at a news conference here.

Alonso confirmed suspicions that some of the militants recruited for duty in Iraq had begun returning to Spain and other countries to begin operations in their native or adopted lands.

One of the network’s missions, he said, was harboring veterans of the Iraqi conflict who had returned home to scout for possible terrorist targets in Europe and help identify promising recruits.

Interior ministry officials identified Syria and Jordan as countries through which recruits were transported on their way to Iraq.

Officials said that the network, which focused on finding militants who would be willing to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq, appears to have done most of its recruiting in Spain. But investigators said that the group also helped transport militants recruited in North Africa.