ALMERÍA, Spain (AP) – A suspected Egyptian-born Islamic State fighter described by police investigators as a “dangerous extremist” and two other people who are being investigated for possible links to religious extremist groups have been arrested in southern Spain, the country’s National Police announced Tuesday.
Police described the Islamic State fighter as a man who had gone from Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq and said he is “one of the most sought terrorists in Europe, both because of his criminal trajectory in the ranks of Daesh (Islamic State) and because of the high danger that he represented.”
The three were arrested in the early hours of Monday at a rented apartment in a central area of Almería, a southeastern Spanish port city, The Associated Press has learned from police contacts and interviews with local residents.
They were being interrogated on Tuesday and were due be sent before a National Court judge in Madrid on Wednesday, said a spokesman from the court that usually handles terror-related cases and who was not authorized to be named in media reports.
In a press release that didn’t identify those arrested, police said the operation was the result of “international cooperation” between agents specialized in fighting terrorism who suspected that the foreign fighter could be traveling through Spain as he tried to return to Europe.
Police said that the main suspect had arrived by sea to Almería from northern Africa. In Spain, the three confined themselves in an apartment amid strict lock-down measures imposed to combat the new coronavirus pandemic.
“They made few outings, separately and always with masks to avoid being detected,” the press release said.
The main suspect had allegedly been in conflict-struck areas of Syria and Iraq for years and was described by police as having an”extremely violent” criminal profile.
The arrests took place in Cerro de San Cristóbal, a historic neighborhood in Almería, the capital of a province also called Almería, known for its narrow streets dotted with nightclubs and a mix of old and new buildings leading to the city´s Alcazaba, a 10th-century fortress of Arabic origin.
Antonio García, who owns several apartments for tourists in the vicinity, told AP that several police vans and heavily armed agents had cordoned off streets in the area for most of Monday.
Taxi driver Ángel Vílchez and Miriam Cortés, who lives nearby, separately confirmed that six police vehicles and about 30 officers, including many in plainclothes, had blocked access to several streets since early Monday.
“Everything was blocked off,” Vílchez said. “The place is inundated with marijuana plantations inside houses, so I wouldn´t be surprised if they found something else.”
Another neighbor, who asked not to be named in media reports, said police had showed up at 3 a.m. Monday and took away at least one person handcuffed from an apartment used for short stays by tourists.
Spain’s Interior Ministry says police have arrested nearly 400 people connected to extremist religious groups since 2012. Many of the arrests have not led to judicial convictions.
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