MADRID, Spain – Police arrested 16 Islamic terror suspects in raids in several cities, including 11 men accused of having ties to Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) group Al Qaeda in Iraq and recruiting people for attacks there, officials said Wednesday.
The 11 were part of a support group for a Syrian-based recruitment network for attacks on U.S. and allied forces, and some of them had said they themselves wanted to become "martyrs for Islam" and were awaiting orders to do so, the Interior Ministry said. It did not specify how Spanish authorities learned of these alleged intentions.
Most of the 11 are Moroccan and practically all of them sold drugs and committed robberies to finance the network, the ministry said. They were arrested as part of an investigation that began in 2004.
The other five detainees were described as suspects in last year's train bombing in Madrid.
Some 500 Spanish police took part in raids in Barcelona, Valencia, the southern Andalusia region, and Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the northern coast of Morocco.
Al-Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) is believed to be responsible for many of the bloodiest terror attacks in the country.
The Spanish Interior Ministry said the 11 detainees belonged to a terrorist network that was established in Spain and linked to Ansar al-Islam (search), believed to have ties with the group run by al-Zarqawi.
It said the apparent leader of the Spanish group's recruitment activities was a 28-year-old Moroccan named Samir Tahtah, arrested near Barcelona. He coordinated communications with overseas leaders of the network and the sending of recruits to Iraq for terrorist attacks, the statement said.
"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, said Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso.
Some of the other five detainees had close ties to ringleaders of last year's commuter train bombing in Madrid, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500. They were arrested Tuesday in Madrid and Barcelona, the statement said.
Mohamed Afalah, a fugitive suspect in the bombings, was believed killed in a bomb attack in Iraq between May 12-19, the statement said, without citing a source. It said the target of the alleged attack was not known.
The arrests were ordered by a judge at the National Court, the Madrid-based tribunal that is the hub of Spain's investigations of Islamic terror cases, including the train bombings and an Al Qaeda (search) cell on trial in Madrid. Three of the 24 defendants are charged with helping plot the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
A total of 26 people have been jailed in the train bombings, and more than 70 others have been questioned and released but are still considered suspects.