Spain arrests 'Syria jihadist suspects' in Ceuta

Perimeter fence separating Ceuta from Morocco (file photo 2005) Officials say they know of several people who have travelled from Ceuta to Syria

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Eight people have been arrested in the Spanish territory of Ceuta on suspicion of recruiting jihadist fighters to go to Syria and elsewhere, police say.

Those detained in the raids on Friday morning are accused of being part of a network linked to al-Qaeda.

They are suspected of funding, indoctrinating and facilitating travel for would-be fighters.

Police say the network was based in the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta and the Moroccan city of Fnideq.

Interior Ministry Jorge Fernandez Diaz called the operation a "hard blow" against international terrorism.

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All the detainees are Spanish citizens, Spanish media reported.

In a statement, the ministry of interior said dozens of people, some of them under 18, had left both Ceuta and Moroccan territory under the cover of the al-Qaeda-linked network.

Some of them had taken part in suicide attacks, while others had joined training camps to prepare for armed action, the ministry said.

Several groups of jihadists were still expecting to travel from Spain to Syria, the ministry statement said, adding that the investigation was still ongoing.

"We are aware that they facilitated the travel of a number of persons from Ceuta, Morocco and other places in Spain, via Turkey," Mr Fernandez Diaz said.

He said he would give more details on Saturday at a news conference.

Investigation

The National Police and the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) began separate investigation in 2009 and 2011 but began working together earlier this year.

Details about those arrested were not immediately available.

The ministry of interior said the case had been registered with a court for investigation.

The presence of foreign combatants amongst those fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad is causing anxiety in Western countries, as well as in Syria itself.

In April, EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove told the BBC that an estimated 500 Europeans were fighting with rebel forces in Syria.

Last year, three people from Ceuta who went to fight in Syria were killed in separate battles, the Spanish news agency Efe reported.

And in May, a family from Ceuta reported the disappearance of a young man who they suspected might have been picked up by a militant network to fight in Syria, Efe said.

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, at least 93,000 people have been killed, the UN said on 13 June.

Among the other foreigners killed in Syria were two Britons and an American woman.

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