Spanish police have arrested 10 suspected members of an international terrorist ring allegedly funded by Libya and planning attacks on U.S. interests in Spain, the Interior Ministry announced today.
A ministry statement said three Lebanese brothers, a Jordanian and a Syrian as well as four Spaniards and a Portuguese citizen were being held under Spain's antiterrorist laws.
The five detained Middle Easterners were closely connected with Libyan officials in Madrid who supplied funds and instructions for terrorist actions by the group, known as The Call of Jesus Christ, the statement said.
The announcement followed expulsion of Libya's consul in Madrid, who allegedly organized meetings in Libya between a right-wing Spanish Army officer seeking financing for his activities in Spain and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The consul, Saed Mohammed Alsalam Esmaiel, who left Spain today, said the officer, Col. Carlos Meer de Rivera, had "never ever" been to Tripoli and called the allegations part of a "dirty game" to smear Libya.
[The British government announced the expulsion of three Syrian diplomats whom police had sought to question about alleged involvement in terrorist activities.]
A Spanish government spokesman said yesterday that the alleged conspiracy pointed up Libya's support of terrorist activities across the political spectrum.
The government statement today made no connection between yesterday's developments and the arrests announced today.
The Interior Ministry said the breakup of the alleged terrorist ring and the exposure of its links with Libya followed the detention on May 2 of a Spaniard, Victor Cerro, and a Portuguese, Victor Manuel Romano. The two were detained near the Bank of America headquarters in Madrid with nearly 10 pounds of explosives.
A number of other attacks on U.S. businesses in Spain were planned to follow the abortive bombing of the bank offices, the statement said.
According to the statement, Cerro and Romano said that they had been promised $70,000 by one of the Lebanese, Feisal Hanna Joudi, for the bank bombing. The two men said that Libyan officials were giving orders to Joudi and providing him with funds.
Cerro and Romano also confessed, the statement said, to taking part in a bomb attack on the offices of Air France in Lisbon on April 11. They had been hired to carry out that attack by Libyan officials acting through Joudi, the statement said.
Two other Joudi brothers, identified as Danny and Freddy, provided support for Feisal Joudi, while the detained Jordanian, Rabah Musa Mohammed Abu Kamis, acted as the go-between with the Libyan officials in Madrid, the statement said.
The Syrian, Faied Jazan, was described by the Interior Ministry as the "military chief" of The Call of Jesus Christ group in Spain. The statement said he was armed with a handgun when he was detained.
The three other Spaniards arrested were accused in the statement of being involved in the recruitment of Cerro and Romano, of supplying explosives and of providing hideouts for the alleged gang.
The Call of Jesus Christ organization was created, according to today's statement, by Feisal Joudi in Lebanon in 1978. It draws its support from Middle East members of the Greek Catholic Church, based in Alexandria, Egypt. The organization says it is fighting for the freedom of Palestinians and aims to drive Israel out of Christianity's holy sites in Jerusalem, the ministry said.
[Church sources in Beirut vigorously denied any ties to the group, The Associated Press reported.]
The statement said that The Call of Jesus Christ had links with extremist right-wing groups in Latin America and in particular with the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, known as "Triple A," which was behind rightist death squads.
Spain's antiterrorist laws allow for a maximum of 10 days of questioning after detention before appearing before a judge. The ministry said that in the course of the arrests, numerous documents had been confiscated.
At a press conference here yesterday, a government spokesman said the links between Meer de Rivera, and Qaddafi led to the conclusion that "the Libyan regime is giving support to activities of all kinds in Spain and in other countries, and I mean activities of the extreme right and of the extreme left."
Meer de Rivera still was being held today in a military prison outside Madrid. He could face charges connected with treason, according to officials, since he allegedly did not inform his superiors of a trip he made to Tripoli in January and since his ticket to Libya allegedly was paid for by Libyan officials.
Two other Spaniards, both members of an extreme right-wing labor union, also had traveled to Tripoli with Meer de Rivera for a meeting with Qaddafi, according to Spanish officials. The officials said the group discussed establishing and funding an extreme right-wing political party in Spain.
The organization would have sought to establish a right-wing dictatorship, the officials said. Its projects were to include severing relations with Israel, established by Madrid earlier this year, and pulling Spain out of NATO and out of the European Community.