Spanish authorities dismantle ring that recruited jihadists for Syria and Mali

Six arrested in Melilla in joint Civil Guard-National Police operation Interior Ministry says cell was also seeking to buy weapons and bomb-making instructions

One of the six suspects arrested in Melilla on Friday.(atlas)

Six alleged jihadists were arrested early Friday morning in the Spanish north African exclave of Melilla on suspicion of sending young recruits to Al Qaeda training camps in Syria, Mali and Libya, police sources said.

All of the detainees have Spanish passports, and one of them was part of AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group that kidnapped and held two Spanish aid workers in the Sahel area in October 2011. The six suspects will be brought before the High Court in Madrid.

The joint operation by National Police and Civil Guard forces included seven house searches. The dismantled ring had created a significant support network in Melilla and the Moroccan city of Nador, where ring members recruited and indoctrinated candidates, as well as providing financial and logistical assistance to send the recruits to their destinations.

This same group had been partially dismantled in late 2012 with the arrest of 29 of its members.

The returning jihadists have been trained in the handling of weapons and explosives

Police sources suspect that around 1,000 Moroccans who have been in combat in Syria will be returning home in the coming weeks or months. A few days ago one such individual showed up at the Spanish consulate in Turkey expressing his desire to return to Melilla after spending a few months in Syria.

The network had sent at least 26 jihadists (24 Moroccans and two Spaniards) to join Al Qaeda’s terrorist groups in the Sahel, according to the Interior Ministry.

Some of the detainees were in charge of an online movement called “Sharia4Spain,” a branch of the “Global Movement Sharia4” that has a presence in many countries. These branches disseminate large amounts of jihadist material online, with the goal of recruiting supporters for specific terrorist actions.

The original British-based group that began the “Global Movement Sharia4” has been declared a terrorist organization by the UK Home Office.

The Interior Ministry said the ring was seeking to purchase weapons and instructions on how to build explosives, creating a serious risk to national security.

Those returning from Syria, Mali and other conflict areas are considered a high security risk because they have been trained in the handling of weapons and explosives, and have sometimes been ordered to carry out attacks back home.