MADRID, Jan 25 – Spanish police on Saturday arrested four suspected Islamist extremists who were prepared to launch attacks in Spain, the government said. Officers detained two pairs of brothers, Spaniards of Moroccan origin, in the Spanish territory of Ceuta bordering Morocco, the interior ministry said in a statement.
It said they had “a very similar profile” to the killers in this month’s Islamist attacksin France, but made no material link between the two cases. Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz compared the suspects to the two brothers — Cherif and Said Kouachi– who killed 12 people in an attack on the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The Ceuta suspects resembled the Paris attackers in their “physical and psychological preparation and their skill in using weapons”, he told reporters. The Spanish suspects also had a “firm determination… tocommit an attack and if necessary sacrificethemselves and die in the attempt”, he said. The Ceuta four were inspiredby online messages from the armed Islamic State (IS) group, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria.
“They formed part of a jihadistcell fully prepared and willing to launch an attack in Spain,” the ministry statement said. It did not say whether the four had made any concrete plans for an attack butsaid they “acquired a high level of radicalisation”. Police seized a nine-millimetreautomatic pistol and machetes among other items during dawn raids on two properties. The four suspects were to be flown by helicopter to Madrid wherethey will go before a judge, reports said.
On alert after Paris attacks
They were the latest in a string of arrests in Ceuta and Spain’s other north African territory, Melilla, where authorities have been monitoring suspected extremist cells. In recent weeks the Paris attacks have put Spanish police on heightened alert for extremists on their soil.
They are helping investigate suspects linked to the attacks in Paris and other plots that were foiled later in Belgium, who are said to have earlier travelled to Spain. Spanish counterterrorism sources said a third gunman behind the Paris attacks, Amedy Coulibaly, drove five people to Madrid in early January, before the attacks, to catch a plane to Turkey.
Belgian authorities have meanwhile issuedarrest warrants to police in Spain and France for two men on the run after a jihadistcell was broken up in Belgium. Spanish police have arrested about 50 suspected jihadistsover the past year, the ministry said this month. Many of them are suspected of planning to join IS.
Some were caught after returning from zones controlled by the jihadistgroup and a handful have died there, according to Spanish authorities. That has raised concerns over “homegrown” and “lone wolf” extremists — a familiar trend in Britain, France and Germany where hundreds of radicalisednatives have been identified, but a relatively new phenomenon in Spain.
The Spanish government has been crackingdown on radical recruitment online, monitoring extremist web forums to identify suspects such as those arrested in Ceuta. Spain suffered one of Europe’s worst ever peacetime attacks on March 11, 2004, when Al-Qaeda-inspired bombings killed 191 people in an attack on Madrid commuter trains.