Spanish police on Monday arrested 15 people suspected of recruiting al-Qaida fighters to send to Iraq, the government said.
The 15, of several nationalities, were detained in southern and northeast Spain and on the island of Mallorca, Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said.
They are believed to be members of a network that sent volunteers “to wage jihad as members of the al-Qaida network,” Alonso told a news conference.
He said the group had two fighters ready to send to Iraq at the time of the arrests.
Alonso did not make clear if the volunteers the group sent to Iraq carried out suicide attacks there, but said the Spanish cell “had contacts with people linked to terrorist groups operating in Iraq against the soldiers that are based there.”
Alonso said the arrested were eight Moroccans, as well as people from Spain, Iraq, Egypt, France, Ghana, Saudi Arabia and Belarus.
The involvement of outsiders in attacks in Iraq was highlighted last month when a 38-year-old Belgian woman blew herself up on the outskirts of Baghdad in what was believed to be the first suicide attack in Iraq by a European woman.
Monday’s operation was the latest in a series of operations against suspected Islamists in Spain since the al-Qaida-linked Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people on March 11, 2004.
Nineteen people have been arrested in Spain in the last month in operations against alleged supporters of Algeria’s largest outlawed militant movement, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.
About 100 police officers were involved in Monday’s operation, according to news reports.
Alonso said police had seized various chemicals, including acetone and citric acid that could be used to make bombs.
But he said other components that would be needed to make bombs were missing and said there was no evidence that the group was preparing explosives or planned any attack in Spain.
He said police arrested three suspects in Nerja on the south coast, six in nearby Malaga, two in Seville, three in the northeastern town of Lerida and one in Palma de Mallorca.