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Al Qaeda suspects held in Spain

BARCELONA, Spain -- Police have arrested two suspected members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist al Qaeda network in northeastern Spain, news reports say.

The two, a Moroccan and an Algerian, were arrested on Saturday on a warrant by Judge Baltasar Garzon, The Associated Press reported.

The arrests came as part of an operation that jailed eight people in Spain last November for their alleged role in the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington blamed on bin Laden.

Police arrested the men in Hospitalet, a town just north of Barcelona, the national news agency Efe said.

Two of the men arrested in England are accused of having ties with al Qaeda. CNN's Jim Boulden reports (January 18)

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The arrests came as police in the UK were given more time to question nine men arrested in Britain's biggest sweep against suspected terrorists since September 11.

Officers continued to search one property in Leicester, central England, following raids on Thursday that saw eight people arrested under Britain's Terrorism Act.

A ninth man was arrested in London on Friday. All nine are being held in Leicester.

On Friday evening a magistrate issued a warrant allowing police to hold and question the men, aged between 20 and 40, without charge until Monday. Under the Terrorism Act, police can obtain warrants to question suspects for up to seven days without charge.

Leicestershire police told CNN that over two days 17 people had been arrested, nine under the Terrorism Act and another eight -- six men and two women -- under the Immigration Act.

The arrests came after specialist teams completed searches at six addresses in Leicester and one in London.

Two Algerian men also remained in custody on Saturday, charged with membership of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

They were charged on Thursday, the first time British authorities had charged anyone with membership of the outlawed group blamed for the September 11 suicide attacks since it was put on a list of proscribed groups.

They are being held in custody until their next court appearance on January 24. The authorities have been aware of possible al Qaeda activity in Leicester, 100 miles (160 kms) north of London. Djamel Beghal, a 35-year-old French-Algerian held in Paris in connection with a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy, reportedly told investigators that he had recruited supporters at mosques in Leicester and London.

Police said this week's arrests were part of a European anti-terrorist investigation and were not directly linked to the events of September 11. Leaders of Leicester's 35,000-strong Muslim community say the suspects are outsiders who do not represent mainstream opinion in the culturally diverse city of 300,000.

On Saturday a senior police officer agreed, but warned that right-wing extremists could use the fear of terrorism to spread racial and religious hatred.

"There have been instances of that since September 11, with leaflets being put around, some demonstrations and meetings and things like that," said Peter Fahy, deputy chief constable of Surrey police.

"We know there are extremists on both sides, there are some extremists in so-called Muslim groups and on the far right who would love to exploit this situation to try and create conflict between communities," he told BBC radio. Britain passed a controversial anti-terrorist law in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States that gives law enforcement authorities the power to detain foreign national terrorist suspects without trial.

The government said the law was aimed at a handful of people in Britain seen as a security threat but who could not be sent back to their home countries because they could face the death penalty.


• Eight terror suspects arrested
December 19, 2001
• UK passes anti-terror law
December 14, 2001
• UK MPs vote for anti-terror bill
November 20, 2001
• Prodi calls for EU unity on terror
November 15, 2001

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