Aided by Moroccan police, Spanish counterterrorism units broke up a jihadist cell in North Africa Tuesday, arresting four suspected members of the cell including a former Guantanamo inmate, wanted for recruiting terrorists for the Islamic State.
According to separate statements from the Interior Ministries of both countries, the four arrests comprised three Spanish citizens who were seized in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, and one Moroccan national, who was taken in the Moroccan city of Nador.
The Moroccan statement identified one of the Spanish detainees in as a former Guantanamo prisoner who had fought with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but did not provide his name or information about his departure from the US detention center in Cuba.
Spanish authorities described the man as a “leader trained in handling weapons, explosives and military tactics,” which rendered the cell “particularly dangerous.” After being captured in 2002 and sent to Guantanamo, the man was returned to Spain in 2004, according to Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.
The Spanish daily El País identified the ex-Guantanamo inmate as Hamed Abderraman Ahmed, who had been arrested by the U.S. military during an operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In 2006, Spanish police arrested eleven people in a large scale operation in Ceuta against an alleged Islamic jihadist cell. Some 300 National Police are reported to have taken part in the operation. Among the arrested men were two brothers of Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed.
Another of those arrested in Ceuta Tuesday is the brother of a fighter who carried out a suicide attack in 2013 against the Syrian army.
The four formed a group trying to recruit fighters to join the ranks of the militia of the radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in addition to insurgents willing to carry out attacks in Spain and Morocco, the Spanish statement said.
Moreover, the alleged jihadists had “the clear intent and full disposition to carry out terrorist acts in Spanish territory,” the Ministry reported, adding that the men had entered into contact with a series of individuals who could supply them with weapons and materials to build explosives.
The three arrests in Spanish Ceuta bring the total of those arrested this year in Spain for links to jihadist terrorism to nine.
On February 7, six people were arrested in the provinces of Alicante, Valencia and Ceuta as alleged members of a jihadist cell that sent weapons, military equipment and money to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, such as Jahbat al-Nusra and Islamic State, disguised as humanitarian aid.
During the course of 2015, the Spanish police arrested some 100 suspected Islamic extremists, and more than 600 since the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and left 2,000 injured.
Responsibility for the 2004 attacks, the most serious and lethal terrorist acts in Spain’s history, was claimed by the jihadist group Al-Qaeda.
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