Madrid – Spain's interior minister said Saturday that eight suspected jihadist militants who formed part of a terrorist recruitment network that sent 50 militants to carry out attacks for al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria have been arrested.
Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said the arrests by police early Friday in the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta had disbanded and "neutralized" the network.
Fernández Díaz said those who went to Syria had fought against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and some had taken part in suicide bombings. He said 12 of the 50 militants who went to Syria had been recruited in Ceuta and the rest in Morocco, adding that some had been minors.
"We are not talking of combatants, soldiers, in the war in Syria, but of the capture of jihadists whose sole end was to carry out terrorist attacks," Fernández Díaz said.
He said that recruits were given training and finance by the network, which had two bases, one in Ceuta and the other in Morocco.
Once trained to a point where they would be able to carry out terrorist attacks, the recruits were taken to Turkey, where they were transported to the border with Syria before being "introduced to the conflict zones."
The network informed relatives of any deaths, the minister said.
He said police had been able to determine that the network's recruits had gone on to perpetrate terror attacks as part of the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra organization and also the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a Sunni extremist group.
Fernández Díaz said that when members who had been involved in terror attacks in Syria returned to Europe they remained a threat to security, some as potential "lone wolf" terrorist who needed to be arrested.
He said these types of militants were "highly radicalized and trained" to continue with the jihad or holy war on an individual scale that was "a real and serious threat to our security."
The identities of those arrested were not immediately available.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.