Spain's Ministry of Interior announced today that three al-Qaeda suspects were arrested by Spanish police on Wednesday. The suspects had enough explosives to blow up a bus and were planning an attack in Spain, or other countries in Europe.
Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz noted that sufficient quantities of explosives to blow up a bus had been found in their Cádiz house, and that the material could have been especially dangerous if combined with shrapnel.
The men had apparently been in Spain for two months. Police had the men under surveillance "for some time", before two were arrested near the central city of Ciudad Real, on a bus traveling from Cadiz to Irun, possibly planning to cross over from there into France. The Turk was arrested in the southern city of La Linea de la Concepción (Cádiz), which borders on the British colony of Gibraltar.
The Turk had explosives in his apartment in San Roque, Cádiz, where he lives with his Moroccan wife. The police located a hidden compartment in the Cádiz apartment that had been used to store explosives, but had recently been emptied. “The explosives sniffer dogs reacted very strongly,” according to one officer.
According to Díaz, investigators found no indications that the three were targeting Gibraltar, declining to offer specifics on possible targets, except that "there are clear indications they could have been planning an attack in Spain and/or another country."
Díaz said, "Police moved to arrest them when it became known that they planned to leave Spain."
The three men consisted of a Russian, a Turk and a Chechen, although their identities have not been disclosed. Two of the men are suspected Al-Qaeda operatives, and the Turkish man was acting as their facilitator. One of the operatives is suspected to be a key member of the terrorist organization, and two of the men had apparently practiced flying light aircraft.
According to the Spanish media, the Chechen was an expert on explosives and poison, and is believed to have been trained in the Russian Army. All three suspects are reported to have attended a militant training camp in Pakistan, and two of them recently returned from Afghanistan.
Police seized TNT, as well as control instructions for light aircraft and small drones, during the operation. Officers are now studying a suitcase, whose contents remain unidentified.
Díaz said that "This is one of the most important operations carried out against Al-Qaeda." He added that the operation involved close collaboration with intelligence services from Spain's allies.
Following the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people, for which which Al-Qaeda claimed credit, Spain has intensified its counter-terrorism efforts, arresting dozens of suspects.