11 arrested in raid against jihadist cell in Catalonia

Catalan interior chief says group was planning an attack in the northeastern region

Eleven people were arrested in Catalonia on Wednesday morning in a raid against a jihadist cell that is believed to have been planning an attack in the northeastern region.

The suspects are 10 men and a woman all aged between 17 and 45. Five of them are Spanish citizens, five hail from Morocco and one is from Paraguay.

Evidence suggests the group was not only trying to send more youths to Syria, but also planning an attack in Spain

Besides recruiting new combatants for Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the group constituted “an operative cell that was intending to carry out attacks in Catalonia,” said the Catalan chief of internal affairs, Ramon Espadaler, in a press conference.

A group of 360 officers from the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police force, launched the operation in the early hours of Wednesday morning and searched over a dozen homes in Sabadell, Terrassa, Sant Quirze del Vallès, Valls and Barcelona.

The number of arrests could rise as the day progresses, said Espadaler.

The raid was authorized by High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz, and is likely a continuation of an operation launched in December, when three youths were arrested in Bulgaria after trying to travel to Syria to fight for IS.

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All three were Catalonia residents, and the police investigation discovered evidence that a new group of terrorists was not only trying to send more youths to Syria, but also planning an attack on Spanish soil.

Catalonia is one of the Spanish regions that has seen the most police operations against jihadism. So far this year, 29 arrests have been made, without counting today’s detentions.

“The risk is there, we can’t let our guard down,” said Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz in an interview with Catalunya Ràdio.

The minister said that since 2012, around 80 percent of recruiting is carried out online. But police are also keeping tabs on several mosques where recruiters are thought to seek out volunteers.

According to ministry figures, of the 1,264 mosques in Spain, around 100 follow the most radical current of Islam, Salafism. Of these, half are located in Catalonia.