LONDON – Four men among 14 suspects alleged to have organized terrorist training camps in Britain were watched by Spanish authorities as they passed through the country on a visit to Africa, Spain's interior ministry said Monday.
The men — including one born in Tanzania, one in Somalia and one in Britain — made the trip through France, Spain and Africa in April and were observed following a warning from British police, a statement said.
It identified the four only by their initials and dates of birth, and said the group entered Spain through a northern frontier and left two days later aboard a ferry bound for Africa.
The men later returned to Spain via the same ferry port and left again through the border with France, the statement said.
It said one of the men had been born in 1957 in Tanzania, another in Somalia in 1987, and a third in Britain in 1966.
British police arrested 14 suspects, aged between 17 and 48, in raids at a halal Chinese restaurant and other London locations late Friday.
Law enforcement officers allege the group ran terrorism training and indoctrination camps across Britain, including in London and in national parklands including the Lake District in northern England, a police official said.
Abu Abdullah, an associate of jailed radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, is among those being questioned, the official said, on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to disclose details of the case.
Al-Masri is serving a seven-year sentence for inciting followers to kill non-Muslims.
Inquiries are focusing on an Islamic school set in 54 acres of grounds in the English countryside, where detectives and forensic teams are searching buildings, woodlands and a lake.
The Jameah Islameah School, a former convent near Crowborough, 40 miles south of London, had only nine pupils according to a December 2005 government inspection report.
Charles Hendry, a lawmaker representing the area where the school is located, said al-Masri had previously visited the school with a group of followers.
Police are enforcing a 3-mile exclusion zone around the site as their inquiries continue, a spokesman said.
Sussex Police, which operates in south eastern England, said Monday that officers and civilian staff had attended courses on the Muslim faith at the site.
Staff had made around 15 visits to the school for one-day courses on work with Muslim communities.
"The school has been used by officers and staff undergoing advanced training for their role as diversity trainers to the rest of the work force," the Sussex force said in a statement. It said the force was reviewing the use of the school in light of the inquiry.
A judge has granted officers until Friday to hold 11 of the suspects, and until Wednesday to hold a further three, before police must seek a further extension.
Under new British anti-terrorist laws, police can hold suspects for up to 28 days before they must be charged or released.
The suspects are being questioned on suspicion of committing, preparing or instigating terrorist acts, police said.
Police said the latest arrests were not linked to an alleged plot to down trans-Atlantic flights, or to the July 2005 London attacks, which killed 52 commuters and four bombers.