Spanish police arrested 11 men on charges of belonging to a group that recruits people to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq, officials said Wednesday.
More than 500 heavily armed police officers staged pre-dawn raids in half a dozen cities to arrest the suspects, who were accused of working with two radical groups in Iraq, the Ansar al-Islam Army and al Qaeda in Iraq, the Interior Ministry said.
This was the first time people were arrested in Spain on suspicion of sending suicide attackers to Iraq, said officials at the National Court, a tribunal based in Madrid that is leading Spain's investigations of Islamic terror cases.
The Interior Ministry said some of the 11 suspects said they also wanted to become "martyrs for Islam" in suicide attacks and were awaiting orders to do so. It did not specify how Spanish authorities had learned that.
"Basically, what the police accuse them of is raising money and recruiting people to do activities abroad related with the international jihad," or holy war, Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told reporters.
The Interior Ministry said that most of the 11 are Moroccans and that most of them sold drugs and staged robberies to finance the network. They were arrested as part of a probe that began in 2004.
Raids were conducted in Barcelona, Valencia, the southern region of Andalusia and Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the northern coast of Morocco.
The ministry said the network was established in Spain and linked to Ansar al-Islam, a radical group based in Iraq. Spanish investigators believe that group is associated with al Qaeda in Iraq, the underground organization blamed for most of the suicide attacks in Iraq that is run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian.
One of the men was a brother of Abdel Hay Assas, described as one of the group's main recruiters and fundraisers. Assas was arrested in Syria in May 2004 and handed over to Moroccan authorities, the ministry said.
The alleged leader of the Spanish network's recruitment efforts was Samir Tahtah, 28, a Moroccan arrested in a town near Barcelona. He was accused of coordinating communications with overseas leaders and dispatching recruits to Iraq for terrorist attacks, the ministry said.
Five other people were detained Tuesday in connection with the bombings last year of four morning rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800, authorities said. Some of those suspects were alleged to have close ties to ringleaders of the train bombings.
Mohamed Afalah, a fugitive wanted in the Madrid bombings, was likely killed in a suicide attack in Iraq in mid-May, the Interior Ministry statement said, without citing the source of the information.