Spanish police arrest 16 people on suspicion of terror recruitment

Spanish police detained 16 people Monday on suspicion of recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq and other countries.

Twelve people were arrested in Barcelona and in two other towns in the northeastern region of Catalonia. Two suspects were arrested in the central town of Aranjuez, and one in the southern city of Malaga, an Interior Ministry statement said. The ministry announced later that one other suspect had been arrested in Barcelona.

Fourteen of the 16 were Moroccan and two were from Algeria, according to the statement.

The 16 are accused of spreading propaganda in favor of jihad, or holy war, and of sending volunteer fighters to groups operating in north Africa and countries in conflict such as Iraq, the statement said.

National Court investigative magistrate Baltasar Garzon ordered the detentions.

"The arrests are further evidence that Spain is part of the battlefield of international terrorism," said Jesus Nunez Villaverde, an expert on the Islamic world and director of a Madrid think-tank, the Institute of Studies on Conflict and Humanitarian Action.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, Spanish police have arrested hundreds of Islamic terror suspects, many in connection with the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people.

Twenty-nine suspects, most of them Moroccan, are on trial in the Spanish capital for their alleged roles in the Madrid train attacks. The attacks were claimed by Islamic radicals to avenge the presence of the country's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In recent years, security forces have focused on rounding up suspected militants for allegedly recruiting mujahedeen fighters and suicide bombers or for collecting money to finance al-Qaida and linked groups abroad.

Many of the arrests have taken place in Catalonia, a region whose capital is Barcelona and which has traditionally had a strong North African immigrant presence.

The ministry said computer material, jihad propaganda and several mobile phones were seized during the pre-dawn raids Monday. No arms or explosives were discovered.

Earlier, a National Police spokesman said security forces had been watching the suspects for several months. The ministry statement said Monday's operation was connected to one in January 2006 in which 22 people were arrested in raids against jihad-recruitment cells across Spain.

Al-Qaida has frequently claimed that it intends to recover "al-Andalus", a reference to the vast area of Spain ruled by the Moors for 800 years until 1492.