MADRID, Spain – Spanish police arrested 15 people Monday on suspicion of recruiting and indoctrinating fighters for Iraq's insurgency, officials said.
The cell was in close contact with Al Qaeda members in Iraq and had two people ready to be sent there to wage "holy war," Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told a news conference.
The arrests stemmed from a probe that began in January and the cell sent "several" people to fight in Iraq, the minister said without giving a precise figure.
More than 100 police officers staged raids that led to the arrests in the regions of Catalonia and Andalusia as well as in Spain's Balaeric Islands, he said.
Police agents specializing in Islamic terrorism, explosives or scientific investigation made the arrests in the cities of Lerida, Malaga, Nerja, Seville and Palma on the island of Mallorca.
Alonso did not give the nationality of the suspects, although the news agency Efe said they included Moroccans, Ethiopians, a person from Ghana and one Spaniard.
Monday's arrests marked the fourth time in less than a month that Spanish police have arrested people suspected of Islamic extremist activities.
In a series of arrests beginning in late November, 19 people were arrested on suspicion of belonging to or collaborating with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an Algerian-based extremist group that has declared allegiance to Al Qaeda.
Seven were jailed on preliminary charges of belonging to a terror cell, one still has to go before a judge and the others were released.
Spain has arrested nearly 200 Islamic terror suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, which investigators say were planned in part in Spain.
About half of them were arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombings of last year, in which 191 people were killed and more than 1,500 wounded. Of these suspects, 26 have been jailed, although dozens more who were questioned and released are still considered suspects.