A Spanish judge accused three Algerians on Wednesday of belonging to al Qaeda and forming part of a network that recruited Muslims across Europe to go to Iraq and fight the U.S.-led occupation.
The high court judge, Baltasar Garzon, said the mobilizing of insurgents was directed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose group purportedly has claimed responsibility for the beheading of an American hostage in Iraq and the assassination on Monday of the head of the Iraqi Governing Council. Zarqawi has emerged, through a series of attacks and a barrage of recent propaganda messages, as the leading al Qaeda operative fighting the occupation.
The operation described by Garzon was linked to a network, broken up by Italian authorities in November, to recruit fighters to go to Iraq.
The three Algerians, along with a Spaniard accused of collaborating with them, were arrested in various parts of Spain last Friday and jailed pending further investigation.
The judge also drew links between the Algerians and the Hamburg cell that plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Garzon accused one of the men, Samir Mahdjoub, of helping others "distribute money to finance the sending of mujaheddin to Iraq," using the infrastructure of the militant group Ansar al-Islam in other countries, including Italy and Syria.
He accused Mahdjoub and the other two Algerians, Redouane Zenimi and Mohamed Ayat, of forming part of a Spanish al Qaeda cell. Their main task was "lending economic financing to the rest of the European network," Garzon said.
Garzon has been probing suspected al Qaeda cells in Spain since before the Sept. 11 attacks. Another judge is investigating the March 11 bombings of four commuter trains in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.
Garzon said the Algerians took orders from Abderrazak Mahdjoub, a resident of Germany who is a brother of one of the men accused Wednesday.
Abderrazak Mahdjoub was arrested in Germany and extradited to Italy after Italian authorities broke up a European ring suspected of recruiting militants for suicide bombings in Iraq.
Under orders from Zarqawi, Abderrazak Mahdjoub and a suspect identified as Abdelahi Djaouat "traveled to Damascus in March 2003 with the intention of going to Iraq, where other mujaheddin would be arriving," Garzon said. Both men, however, were arrested in Syria.
Garzon said the al Qaeda cell in Spain included Heidi Ben Youssef Boudhiba, who is in jail in Britain. He said Boudhiba formed part of a network that was attempting to attack London with ricin, a deadly toxin, in January 2003. Garzon has asked British authorities to turn him over to Spanish authorities.
Garzon also linked Boudhiba to members of the Hamburg cell of al Qaeda to which three of the suicide pilots involved in the Sept. 11 attacks belonged. He said Boudhiba and another cell member flew to Istanbul eight days before the attacks.