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Police arrest 14 suspected of planning terror attack

21 January 2008

MADRID/BARCELONA – Fourteen South Asians arrested in Barcelona on Friday night may have been planning an attack in Spain or another West European country, Spanish authorities said at the weekend.

The 12 Pakistanis and two Indian nationals were taken into custody late Friday night when police raided an unauthorised prayer hall in the Catalan capital on suspicion that it was being used by Islamist extremists.

The main suspects, Spanish residents who had been under police surveillance since 2004, had recently been joined by several other individuals who had flown in from Pakistan. Searches of five properties linked to the group turned up timers and a small quantity of an explosive known colloquially as "Satan’s mother."

"When you discover this sort of material, you have no choice but to think they were planning a violent act," Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba told reporters in a press conference on Saturday.

He said that police suspect the group had been planning an attack in Barcelona, or in Portugal, France or the United Kingdom – countries that members of the group had been known to visit frequently.

Their arrests came on the eve of the start of a European tour by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a US ally in the war on terror. He is scheduled to visit France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Rubalcaba noted that the cell was distinct from other Islamist groups dismantled in Spain in recent years, most of whom had been dedicated to providing financing, logistical support and recruiting would-be terrorists for organisations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Here we are looking at something different: a well-organised group that was going beyond ideological radicalism to acquiring materials to make explosives and therefore eventually to carrying out violent attacks," the interior minister said.

The most alarming signal that the group was preparing to kill was their acquisition of the "Satan’s mother" explosive, a compound known scientifically as acetone peroxide. The material has been used in numerous terrorist attacks, including those carried out in Israel, Morocco and the London bombings in 2005.

Investigators believe that some of the suspects, several of whom are second-generation immigrants, may have received training at camps in Afghanistan.

If so, it would confirm the fears of Spanish police and intelligence officials that young members of the Pakistani community are travelling clandestinely to Afghanistan to receive terrorist training from resurgent Taliban groups.

Previously, many had volunteered as fighters in Iraq, although increased security along the Syrian and Turkish borders has made gaining entry into the country more difficult.

Since 2003, more than 70 people have been arrested in Catalonia for links to jihadist groups. However, the regional government claims that the numbers are no greater there than in other Spanish or European cities.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / J. A. RODRÍGUEZ / J. GARCÍA 2008]

Subject: Spanish news