Spain: Had eyes on terror suspects
By DAVID STRINGER | Associated Press Writer | September 4, 2006
LONDON — Four men arrested on suspicion of organizing terrorist training camps in Britain were tracked by Spanish investigators earlier this year as they traveled through Spain from France en route to North Africa, officials said Monday.
The statement from Spain's interior ministry was the first public indication of an international link to the probe, which led to the arrests late Friday and early Saturday of 14 people suspected of training and recruiting for terror attacks.
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British prosecutors, meanwhile, said eight other people allegedly involved in a separate plot to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft are unlikely to be brought to trial until 2008.
In Spain, the interior ministry said the four training-camp suspects _ including one born in 1957 in Tanzania and one in 1966 in Britain _ were observed on their April trip through Spain following a warning from British police. It said two men who accompanied them were born in 1983 and 1985, but did not say where.
The ministry said the group entered Spain through the northern border with France and left two days later aboard a ferry bound for North Africa. The men followed the same route on their return trip, the statement said.
British police arrested the 14 suspects, aged 17 to 48, in raids at a halal Chinese restaurant and other London locations.
They are being questioned on suspicion of committing, preparing or instigating terrorist acts, police said.
Law enforcement officers allege the group ran terrorism training and indoctrination camps across Britain, including in London and in national parklands, a police official said.
Inquiries are focusing on an Islamic school set on 54 acres in the English countryside, where detectives and forensic teams are searching buildings, woodlands and a lake.
The Jameah Islameah School, a former convent near Crowborough, 40 miles south of London, had only nine pupils, according to a December 2005 government inspection report.
Abu Abdullah, an associate of jailed radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, is among those being questioned, said the police official, who agreed to discuss the investigation only if not quoted by name because she was not authorized to disclose details of the case. Al-Masri is serving a seven-year sentence for inciting followers to kill non-Muslims.
Spanish police said they also were warned to watch a fifth man, born in Somalia in 1987, who had been expected to visit the southern city of Granada, but that trip never took place. The Somali-born man also is under arrest in London, the Spanish interior ministry said.
British police said the latest arrests were not linked to an alleged plot to detonate improvised bombs on board as many as 10 jetliners flying over the Atlantic or to the July 2005 suicide bombings that killed 52 commuters in London.
Prosecutor Colin Gibbs told a court Monday there would be no trial in the jetliner plot before January 2008 and more likely that spring. Such a wait is not unusual for a British terrorism prosecution, with many suspects waiting more than a year between arrest and trial.
Eight suspects appeared in a video link from prison: Tanvir Hussain, 25; Umar Islam, 28; Arafat Khan, 25; Ahmed Abdullah Ali, 25; Ibrahim Savant, 25; Waheed Zaman, 22; Assad Ali Sarwar, 26; and Adam Khatib, 19.
They spoke only to identify themselves. They were not asked to enter pleas to charges of conspiracy to commit murder and preparing to commit terrorism, and were ordered returned to custody.
A total of 25 people have been arrested in the case, and 15 have been charged.
Gibbs said detailed studies of items recovered in police raids would take several months to complete. Defense attorneys told the court they plan to argue it is unfair for the suspects to remain in custody for an extended period before trial.
© 2006 The Associated Press
Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid, Spain, contributed to this report.