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Suspected leader of Islamic militant cell arrested in Spain

Yassin Ahmed Laarbi, a Spaniard, was arrested in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Morocco's north coast.

Story highlights

  • Eight other suspected colleagues were arrested in June
  • Suspected leader of cell taken into custody in Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Morocco coast
  • Suspects have sent fighters into Syria, court order says

The alleged leader of an Islamic militant cell in Spain who escaped arrest in June when eight of his suspected colleagues were detained has been taken into custody, the Spanish Interior Ministry said Monday.

The suspect, Yassin Ahmed Laarbi, a Spaniard, was arrested Monday in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Morocco's north coast, where the eight other suspects also were detained on June 21, an Interior Ministry statement said.

The suspected cell was "a structure based in Spain, with connections in Morocco, Belgium, Turkey and Syria, dedicated to radicalizing, recruiting and sending mujahedeen (fighters) to Syria with the aim of conducting jihad and achieving martyrdom," according to a court order issued in June.

In that order, Judge Ismael Moreno of Spain's National Court ruled that the eight suspected Islamic militants should remain in prison on preliminary charges alleging membership in a terrorist group.

The group has connections to the Jabhat al-Nusra front, described as an active al Qaeda group in and around Syria, and to the Iraq Islamic State in Iraq, but "there are increasing references to carrying out jihad at home," the judge warned at the time, referring to potential attacks in Spain.

Read more: Spain arrests suspects linked to al Qaeda

The eight suspects sent at least 12 Spanish or Moroccan males, from both Ceuta and Morocco, to fight in Syria, the judge wrote. At least five died in suicide attacks in Syria that caused numerous casualties. One of the males was a minor; it was not immediately clear if he was among those who had died.

Some of the eight suspects intended to go to Syria, the judge added.

Monday's Interior Ministry statement said that Laarbi also "was a candidate to join up with those terrorist groups in Syria."

He was not at his home June 21 when the other suspects were arrested, the statement said.

The judge's order in June identified the suspected leader as Spaniard Karin Abdeselam Mohamed, 39.

But the Interior Ministry statement on Monday said Laarbi was the "suspected maximum leader" of the cell.

Spanish police in June said the suspected cell was based in Ceuta and in the nearby Moroccan city of Fnideq. Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain that borders Morocco.