Spain: Police arrest 17 Al-Qaeda suspects in north

Bilbao, 20 May (AKI) - Spain's police on Wednesday have arrested at least 17 suspects alleged to be members of an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb cell in the northern city of Bilbao. The arrests were followed by raids in various neighbourhoods throughout the city.

The arrested - mostly Moroccan and Algerian nationals - are alleged to have financed Al-Qaeda by falsifying credit cards, as well as through drug trafficking and theft, Spanish media reported. A minor was also arrested in the raids.

The anti-terrorism operation was ordered by judge Eloy Velasco of the National Court of Spain, a senior court which hears cases related to terrorism and organised crime.

The arrests and raids took place early on Wednesday and continued throughout the morning.

The Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb evolved from the Salafite Group for Preaching and Combat, initially formed to create an Islamic state in Algeria, but is now believed to have more widespread goals.

Spain suffered a major Al-Qaeda-inspired terror attack in the capital Madrid in 2004, when a total of 191 people were killed and 2,000 were injured when 10 rucksack bombs exploded in four crowded commuter trains.

Twenty-one people, including a number of North Africans, were sentenced to over 40,000 years in jail for their roles in the attack.

It was carried out by a loosely knit group of Al-Qaeda-inspired Muslim militants and occurred three days before the country's general election.


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