Spanish authorities have arrested three suspected Al Qaeda militants who were allegedly planning an attack in “Spain and/or other European countries” and confiscated enough explosives “to destroy a bus,” Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said today in a press conference.
“It’s one of the most important international [operations] against Al Qaeda,” Mr. Fernández Díaz said. “According to the information from allied intelligence services that are helping in this operation, I can confirm that there are clear indications that these people were planning” a terrorist attack, he said.
Western security officials have grown more concerned about the terrorist threat posed by so-called lone wolves – people who have sympathies with Al Qaeda but act alone or as a small cell, without direction from an organizational authority. Intelligence services suspect there are dozens of such militants in Europe. They are harder to trace or identify than organized groups, as they usually remain inoperative for years.
One Turkish man was detained yesterday in Cádiz in southern Spain, while two men from Russia – still to be identified – were detained hours earlier, “presumably on their way to France,” when the passenger bus they were traveling on made a rest stop, Fernández Díaz said. One of them put up “colossal” resistance, using military training.
Spain has struggled against Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism for more than a decade. In 2004, an operationally independent cell with ideological ties to Al Qaeda killed 191 train commuters in Madrid. Since then, dozens of suspected militants, mostly tied to Al Qaeda-based terrorist groups in northern Africa, have been arrested, although most of their activity has concentrated on fundraising and recruiting.
“We face a global threat, in particular against the West. Spain doesn’t face a bigger or small threat than any other country,” Fernández Díaz said.
Large amount of explosives
This is the first time suspects were caught with significant amount of explosives. Spanish authorities said that the three men were under surveillance for at least two months, and that officials decided to arrest them only once it was clear the men were planning to leave Spain.
“These are extremely dangerous people. I can assure you one of them is very important within the international structure of Al Qaeda,” Fernández Díaz said. “One of them has ample experience in making chemical explosives, rigging car bombs, handling poison, and has sniper training.”
Authorities described the Turkish man in Cádiz as a “facilitator.” The explosives were found in his home. Police also found “documentation” to operate microlight airplanes and radio-controlled aircraft. One of the men, Fernández Díaz said, also had paragliding training.
In July, a statement posted in Spanish in jihadist forums in Yemen, allegedly by the military committee of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, called for volunteers to carry out terrorist attacks, preferably “lone wolves living among the enemy.”
Europe has been rattled by such attacks this year. In March, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah killed three French soldiers and four Jews in Toulouse, France, including three children. He acted alone, although he claimed ties to Al Qaeda militants. He was also trained in Pakistan.
Dozens more “lone wolves” have been arrested for years throughout Europe.