MADRID, Feb 7, (Agencies): Spanish police arrested seven suspected members Sunday of a jihadi cell linked to Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra militants during raids in the eastern provinces of Valencia and Alicante and in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta.
In a statement, police said the cell was well-organized and coordinated by a ringleader who ran a business that enabled him to ship containers with technological supplies, weapons and military equipment from Spanish ports to armed groups in operating in Syria and Iraq.
The cell is suspected of also supplying funds for IS and Jabhat al-Nusra and of money laundering, the statement said. The ringleader was also contacted on several occasion by IS urging him to supply women for combatants in Syria and Iraq to marry, “following guidelines set down by the Islamic State group’s leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi,” the statement said. Police said they began investigating the suspected cell in 2014 and the arrests took place early Sunday.
It said the investigation has uncovered evidence that those arrested provided “logistical support that was essential for the maintenance of terror activities” in Syria and Iraq. Four of those arrested have Spanish nationality but are of Syrian, Jordanian and Moroccan ancestry. Two others are Syrian and Moroccan nationals living in Spain. The Interior Ministry later said a seventh suspect was arrested Sunday but did not give further details.
The investigation, which is still going on, is being coordinated by Spain’s National Court in conjunction with state prosecutors. Two puppeteers were detained in Madrid on Saturday after staging a children’s show during which they allegedly praised terrorism, judicial sources told AFP. The controversy centres around a performance on Friday, when the artists displayed a sign that read “Gora Alka-ETA”, a play on words that combines the “Gora ETA (Long Live ETA)” chant of the banned Basque separatist group with the made-up word alka, to create a slogan that sounds like “Long Live Al-Qaeda”.
Judicial sources said other scenes from the puppet show also shocked the audience, including one featuring the hanging of a judge and another showing the rape of a nun. The puppeteers were on Saturday charged with “glorifying terrorism” by a judge from the National Audience, which handles terror-related cases, a judicial source told AFP. Madrid’s new leftist mayor Manuela Carmena in a statement called the puppeteers’ actions “offensive, completely misplaced” and announced that the play — part of Madrid’s carnival celebrations — had been suspended. A support group for the victims of terrorism (AVT) on Twitter said it intended to file a complaint over the show and called for Madrid’s culture councillor Celia Mayer to be sacked.
The ETA group has claimed responsibility for the deaths of over 800 people over 40 years, but renounced violence in its struggle for independence four years ago. The puppet company behind Friday’s performance, known as “Titeres desde abajo” (Puppets from below), advertises itself as specialising in “popular theatre” and children’s entertainment. The troupe, based in the southern city of Granada, has in the past performed at events organised by anarchist groups, according to its website. Meanwhile, a majority of Spaniards favour a coalition government led by the Socialist party PSOE and market-friendly newcomer Ciudadanos, according to a poll published by El Pais newspaper on Sunday as Spain’s political deadlock continues. Spain has yet to form a government seven weeks after an inconclusive Dec 20 election in which no party won enough votes to govern.
Newer parties, particularly the anti-austerity Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos, grabbed votes from mainstream rivals.
A coalition led by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos is supported by 51 percent of Spaniards according to the poll of 1,000 people, carried out shortly after Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez was given a mandate by the king on Tuesday to try to form a government. All other possible coalitions received an approval rating of less than 50 percent, the survey showed.
The Socialists started talks to form a coalition on Wednesday, a task seen as impossible unless several political parties drop some conditions. Sanchez was formally nominated to try to replace the centre-right People’s Party (PP), which won most votes in the election but acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy deferred a parliamentary confidence vote on a new government as he lacked the support to win it. Given the fragmentation of parliament, the Socialists would need the backing of at least three parties to achieve a simple majority of seats while several others would have to abstain. Sanchez, who has said he needs at least a month before seeking a confidence vote in parliament, has appointed a six-strong team to handle the negotiations.