Pakistanis, Nigerian held in Spain over terror links

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Spanish police have arrested six Pakistanis and a Nigerian suspected of providing forged passports to organisations linked to Al-Qaeda, including the group accused of plotting the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the interior ministry said Wednesday.

Three others -- two Pakistanis and a Thai national -- were held in Thailand as part of the same Operation Kampai, which "neutralised a vast cell that helped provide passports for Al-Qaeda," it said in a statement.

Spanish police detained the seven suspects in raids in and around the northeastern city of Barcelona, which has a large Pakistani community, late on Tuesday.

The gang stole documents, including passports, which were sent to Thailand to be forged and then delivered to Al Qaeda-linked "terrorist groups," in particular the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba that has been accused of plotting the Mumbai attacks, the ministry said.

Ten militants killed at least 166 people in three days of violence in the Indian city in November, 2008.

The suspects arrested also supplied the defeated Sri Lankan separatist group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Spanish statement said.

"In total, seven people have been arrested in Barcelona (six Pakistanis and a Nigerian), all for belonging to a cell providing documentation for terrorist organisations linked to Al-Qaeda," it said.

"The international structure was led by a Pakistani national living in Thailand and who has been detained, who directed the cells based in Europe, decided the features of the passports to obtain and, once they were received in Bangkok, supplied them to different terrorist groups."

Since the investigation began a year and a half ago, police "have detected a number of stolen passports taken from Spain to Thailand, which were stolen almost entirely in the province of Barcelona from tourists who met the requirements stipulated by the 'World Islamic Front' in order to be used by members of different terrorist cells linked to Al-Qaeda," the statement said.

In the raids, police also seized stolen passports, a computer and hard drives, mobile phones, documents and cash in various currencies, the ministry said.

The operation, which was carried out in conjunction with the police forces of other European countries and of Thailand, is continuing, the ministry said.

Last August, Spanish police arrested a Moroccan man suspected of recruiting Islamic extremists over the Internet and helping them travel to "conflict zones" such as Pakistan's restive tribal zone of Waziristan, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Spanish authorities have stepped up operations against Islamist radicals since the March 11, 2004 Al-Qaeda-inspired train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and wounded 1,800 others in the country's worst terror attack.

Security forces have staged several operations in Barcelona.

Spain interior ministry Wednesday named the seven held in Barcelona as Junaid Humayun, Atiqur Rehman, Jabran Ashgar, Malik Iftikhar Ahmad, Mohammad Saddique Khan Begum, Tanveer Arshad -- all Pakistanis -- and Nigerian-born Babatunde Agunbiade.

The three detained in Thailand were Thai national Sirikanlaya Kijbumrung, and Pakistanis Muhammad Athar Butt and Zeeshan Ehsan Butt, the ministry said.

© 2010 AFP

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