Spanish police have detained several people under suspicion of belonging to an Islamist cell, which had intended to launch attacks in Catalonia. The cell is "openly linked" to the "Islamic State," officials say.
Ten men and a woman, who were arrested in the crackdown on Wednesday morning, face charges including incitement to terrorism, recruitment and indoctrination and belonging to a terrorist group. Five of them were Spaniards who converted to Islam, with five more Moroccans and another convert from Paraguay, Catalonia's regional interior minister, Ramon Espadaler, said.
"We are dealing with a cell openly linked to Daesh," Espadaler said, using an Arab name for the "Islamic State."
"It recruited young people and radicalized them. It sent some of them to Syria and Iraq and had also set up an operational cell which was willing to launch attacks in Catalonia."
However, Espadaler said that "at no time did the existence of this cell pose a danger because it was under surveillance at all times."
Hair stylist at the helm
Around 360 police officers participated in the raids across multiple locations on Wednesday, following a year-long investigation, authorities said.
According to Spanish El Pais newspaper, the leader of the group was a Spanish person man named Antonio who worked as a hair stylist in Sabadell, 25 kilometers (around 15 miles) north of Barcelona. Antonio, described by neighbors as polite and inconspicuous, converted to Islam after marrying a woman from Morocco.
The network broken up on Wednesday had sent four jihadists to conflict zones but three of them were arrested in Bulgaria in December, Espadaler said.
An international arrest warrant has been issued for the fourth suspect.
'Outrageous' to accuse the mosques
Around 100 people from Spain are suspected of fighting within ranks of jihadist factions in Iraq and Syria. Authorities fear that the extremists may organize attacks in their native country, after returning from the war zone.
"The jihadist phenomenon is a reality," Espadaler said.
"It exists in our country, in our neighboring European countries and worldwide, but we also have police capable of detecting radicalization and of fighting this phenomenon."
Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said that of the 1,264 mosques in Spain, 98 are devoted to the strict Salafist version of Islam. Of those, 50 are in Catalonia, he told Catalunya Radio.
On the other haid, Espadaler said that "it would be outrageous to say that mosques in Catalonia are preaching" jihadism.
"There are some places that pose a problem and we are monitoring them," he said.
dj/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)