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Spanish police thwart terror attack in Barcelona

January 20, 2008

Arrests prompt fears that terrorists plan a repeat of Madrid train bombings From Harold Heckle in Madrid

SPANISH POLICE arrested 14 suspected Islamic militants in early morning raids yesterday. The men were suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in Barcelona, the interior minister said.

The suspects - 12 Pakistanis and two Indian nationals - were arrested less than two months before national elections, scheduled for March 9. The arrests heighten fears that Islamic militants are again planning to disrupt Spain's elections.

The previous election, in March 2004, was in the wake of Europe's worst Islamic-linked terror attack. On March 11 more than 1800 people were injured and 191 people killed when bombs exploded in railway carriages during the morning rush-hour near Madrid's Atocha station.

Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said yesterday's arrests - many of which were reportedly in Barcelona's Raval neighbourhood - were prompted by information from several unspecified European intelligence agencies. Raval is home to one of Spain's largest concentrations of Pakistani immigrants.

Rubalcaba gave no details on what sort of attack was allegedly being plotted, but said that authorities discovered four timer devices in some of the suspects' homes.

"When someone has timers at home you have no option but to think violent acts are being planned," he said, adding that more arrests were expected and the country was on high security alert.

Spain's leading El Pais newspaper noted that the discovery of the alleged plot coincided with a visit to Europe by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who is scheduled to make stops in France, Britain and Switzerland in coming days. Officials in all three countries have been alerted.

However, the paper gave no indication of evidence that Musharraf was the target, and Rubalcaba made no mention of him in his news conference. Musharraf was not scheduled to visit Spain.

Civil Guard officers made the arrests as part of raids planned with the National Intelligence Centre, the Spanish equivalent of MI5, Rubalcaba said. Five homes were searched overnight, he said. Spanish newspapers reported that a mosque and an unauthorised prayers centre had also been targeted.

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