Passport suspects in Spain not linked to terror

9th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

A Spanish judge rules that 13 members detained for alleged passport forgery are not linked to any Islamic terror networks.

MADRID – Thirteen suspected members of an international crime gang detained in Spain for alleged passport forgery have so far not been found to have any terror links, a Spanish judge has ruled.

"As of today, there is no indication that the suspects belong to any network dedicated to making fake documents with the aim of providing cover to people related to terrorist movements of a jihadist nature," National Audience judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska wrote in a ruling released late on Thursday.

Spanish police detained the 13 men - 10 Pakistanis, a Nigerian, an Indian and a Briton of Pakistani origin - on Tuesday in Barcelona and the eastern city of Valencia as part of a probe carried out in cooperation with police in other European nations and Thailand.

The presiding judge in the case has since ordered 12 of the suspects to be held in preventative detention while one was released, the court ruling said. Three of the 12 have the possibility of release on bail.

The group is believed to have ordered the theft of passports from European or US tourists in Barcelona which were then sent abroad, mainly to Thailand, where they were altered, the judge said in his ruling.

"The stolen passports met the profile recommended by the World Islamic Front, that belong to men between the ages of 25 and 45, with several years of validity and without any stamped visas," he said in the ruling.

The British national is thought to have been the head of the group in Spain, who operated under the orders of a French national detained on Wednesday in Belgium after Grande-Marlaska issued an international warrant for his arrest.

Police seized dozens of passports, some of them blank and others fake, as well as other material used for forging documents along with several mobile telephones and computer equipment as part of their operation.

In January, police arrested six Pakistanis in Barcelona on suspicion of tax fraud and diverting funds to Islamic terror networks. They were released several days later owing to a lack of evidence.

Spanish police have carried out several operations against suspected Islamic extremists since the bombings of three commuter trains in Madrid on 11 March 2004, which killed 191 people in Europe's worst Islamist-linked terror attack.

Islamic extremists claimed responsibility for the attack, which they said they had carried out in the name of Al-Qaeda in response to the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq at the time.

[AFP / Expatica]

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