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Spanish Police Break Up Alleged Jihadist Recruitment Network

MADRID—Spanish police broke up what they said was a jihadist recruitment network in Madrid, led by a former detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, that sent volunteers to fight in Syria and Iraq with al Qaeda-inspired rebels.

Police detained nine people who allegedly fought alongside the Sunni militia Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, officials said. A person familiar with the probe said the suspected leader of the network is Lahcen Ikassrien, Moroccan by birth and nationalized Spanish. He spent four years at Guantanamo after he was captured in 2001 in Afghanistan, where he allegedly fought with the Taliban. He has denied being a Taliban member.

None of the people detained Monday have been charged.

Mr. Ikassrien's detention is the latest chapter in a complex legal saga. Along with two other Spanish citizens, Mr. Ikassrien was released in 2005 to the custody of Spain's authorities and released shortly thereafter due to lack of evidence that he belonged to any criminal groups.

A number of former Guantanamo inmates have risen to prominence in jihadist groups, especially in recent years. By January, about 29% of 614 detainees released from the prison in Cuba had returned to violence, according to the Director of National Intelligence.

In Spain, Mr. Ikassrien has been a prominent voice for the closure of the Guantanamo camp, giving numerous interviews with local media and taking part in human-rights events organized by Amnesty International, according to Fernando Reinares, an expert in terrorism at Spain's Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank.

"This detention comes to show that the idea many had, that the jihadists in Syria and elsewhere are a new generation that has no connection with the previous 9/11 generation, is completely false," Mr. Reinares said. "What we see in fact, is that many of that older generation are now in leading positions all over the jihadist movement."

Mr. Reinares said early reports about Mr. Ikassrien's alleged network show common patterns among jihadists in Western Europe. He said that as with networks in France and Belgium, they typically target unemployed, first-generation immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. But they also have an increasing number of local Muslims, raised in Europe by immigrant parents, willing to join jihadist groups active especially in Syria, Iraq, Mali and Libya.

Several dozen Islamist operatives have been arrested in Spain over the past two years, many of whom were recruited online.

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