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4 Algerians held on terror charges

Spanish judge frees 7 of 11 arrested last week

From Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

story.spain.split.jpg
The four being held are (clockwise from top left): Bouchema, Zerbouti, Bakel and Sihamida.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge ordered four Algerian nationals remain in custody Tuesday on charges of collaborating with a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda, a National Court spokeswoman said.

The judge said some of them had tried to obtain explosives early this year in exchange for drugs.

The four -- identified by the court as Khaled Bakel, Salim Zerbouti, Lyies Sihamida and Said Bouchema -- were among 11 Algerians arrested on November 23 in an anti-terror operation.

The National Court judge handling the investigation, Fernando Andreu, released the other seven on Tuesday with the requirement they report weekly or biweekly to judicial authorities.

Spain's largest-circulation newspaper, El Pais, reported Monday that Bouchema had been deported to Spain by the Netherlands in 2004 after the assassination there of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, an attack authorities blamed on Islamic terrorists.

Bouchema, considered a threat in the Netherlands at the time, was not immediately arrested in Spain because there were no pending charges against him, El Pais reported.

But that changed last week. The court said Bouchema and the three other suspects ordered to remain in jail are linked to the Algerian-based radical Islamic organization Salafist Group for Call and Combat.

The four were residents of Alicante, a southeastern Mediterranean port city where some of the arrests occurred last week. Other arrests were made in Granada and Murcia provinces.

The court said the suspects had tried to acquire explosives in February and March by getting into contact with petty criminals in Granada.

In closed-door arraignments on Monday, the four denied they had been trying to acquire explosives, the court said.

The spokeswoman said last week and reiterated Tuesday there was no immediate indication that the suspects were linked to any imminent attack.

But CNN partner network CNN+, citing a different source, said that the four were planning an attack in Madrid.

In a separate investigation into the Madrid train bombings last year that killed 191 people, investigators found that explosives used in the attacks against the commuter trains had been stolen from a mine in northern Spain with the aid of alleged petty thieves and criminals.

The Algerian suspects arraigned Monday are also suspected of financing terrorism through theft, forged credit cards and forged official documents, the court said.

The court noted that some of the suspects had talked about trying to acquire "red mercury," but the court said these were just preliminary conversations the court did not consider a key factor in bringing the charges against them.

Red mercury is a substance that allegedly could be used in a homemade radioactive "dirty bomb" in a terrorist attack, although other experts doubt the very existence of red mercury or its purported usefulness in a bomb.

Spain's Interior Ministry, in a statement last week after the arrests, said Spanish police had found links in the operation to Algerian-born individuals residing in Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark.

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