Spain arrests nine suspect jihad recruiters

Network leader had been detained in Guantánamo Bay and released for lack of evidence, says ministry

A man suspected of belonging to an international Jihadist recruiting network sits in a police car in Madrid yesterday. Photograph:  Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

A man suspected of belonging to an international Jihadist recruiting network sits in a police car in Madrid yesterday. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 01:00

Nine people have been arrested in Madrid on suspicion of recruiting jihadists and sending them to fight for the al Qaeda-inspired organisation Isis in Syria and Iraq.

The arrests were made in a series of co-ordinated police swoops across the Spanish capital, starting in the early hours of yesterday morning, the interior ministry said. Twelve properties were searched and those arrested included Moroccans, Spaniards, a Bulgarian and a man of Argentine origin.

Militants of Isis – Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – are currently advancing across northern Iraq.

According to the interior ministry, the “main leader” of the network was a Moroccan national, Lahcen Ikasrrien, who was detained by US troops in Afghanistan in 2001 and spent over three years in Guantánamo Bay prison before his release due to lack of evidence. He was handed over to Spain, which also absolved him of terror-related crimes.

Police believe Ikasrrien was a member of the same terrorist cell as the founder of al-Qaeda in Spain, Abu Dahdah, who is currently in jail. After his arrest in the Concepción district of Madrid, police took Ikasrrien to a nearby property belonging to him, where they searched the premises and removed computer files.

Those arrested yesterday were not believed to pose an imminent terrorist threat in Spain. Police said that another of those in the cell was the brother of a man convicted of involvement in the 2004 terrorist attack in Madrid, which killed 191 people. It was not clear whether he was among those arrested yesterday.

Intelligence authorities believe that at least 50 Spanish nationals are fighting in Syria against the forces of the Assad government. Nineteen people have been arrested in Spain in total so far this year in relation to recruitment of jihadists and sending them to war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, Mali and Libya.

Previous police swoops have focused mainly on Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish cities with large Muslim communities on the North African coast.

Last year, interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz warned that the return of jihadists to Spain from foreign conflicts was “one of the big worries” for the country. “On returning they are a potentially very serious focus for the commissioning of terrorist attacks, the spread of Salafism, or incitement to global jihad,” he said.