- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

MADRID — Spanish police arrested 11 men yesterday on suspicion of belonging to a Syrian-based group that recruits suicide bombers to attack U.S. troops in Iraq, officials said yesterday in revealing a new facet of Spain’s role as an al Qaeda staging ground.

Five other persons were detained a day earlier in connection with last year’s train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 persons and wounded more than 1,500, authorities said.

More than 500 heavily armed police staged pre-dawn raids in a half dozen cities to grab the 11 reputed members of a recruiting network that has ties to Abu Musab Zarqawi’s terror group al Qaeda in Iraq, the Interior Ministry said.

Spain has had several brushes with al Qaeda, including the commuter train bombings on March 11, 2004, a reported plot to blow up a Madrid courthouse last year and militants’ reputed use of Spain to help organize the September 11, 2001, attacks on America.

But this was the first time Spain arrested people on suspicion of sending suicide attackers to Iraq, officials at the National Court said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitiveness of their jobs at the country’s hub for Islamist terror investigations and the target of last year’s foiled bomb plot.

While Iraq’s insurgency is believed to be primarily made up of domestic Sunni Arabs, nearly all suicide bombings there are thought to be committed by Islamic extremists from other countries. Zarqawi’s group, called al Qaeda in Iraq, is blamed for the bloodiest attacks.

The Interior Ministry said some of the 11 suspects tied to the recruiting network said they also wanted to become “martyrs for Islam” in suicide attacks and were awaiting orders to do so. It did not specify how Spanish authorities learned that.

“Basically, what the police accuse them of is raising money and recruiting people to do activities abroad related with the international jihad,” or holy war, Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told reporters.

Most of the 11 are Moroccan and practically all of them sold drugs and staged robberies to finance their network, the ministry said. They were arrested as part of a probe that began in 2004.

Raids were conducted in Barcelona, Valencia, the southern Andalusia region and Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the northern coast of Morocco. Police video showed helmeted officers with assault rifles standing over handcuffed men kneeling or lying face down, sometimes in their underwear, at their homes.

The Interior Ministry said the 11 belonged to a terror group that was established in Spain and linked to Ansar al-Islam, a Syrian-based group thought to have ties to Zarqawi’s group.

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