Hundreds of police and security officials acting on months of intelligence arrested at least 11 suspected Islamic militants in pre-dawn raids Tuesday in the Spanish African enclave of Ceuta, nabbing them at their homes and while they prayed in local mosques.
The men - including 10 Spaniards and one Moroccan - had recently begun discussing taking concrete action to launch an attack, though they were in the early stages and are not believed to have selected a target, said Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who was traveling in Algeria.
"It was an Islamic cell in the process of being formed, so they had no specific targets," Rubalcaba said. "But when we saw that they were moving from fanatic discussion to direct action we moved ahead to detain them."
Among those arrested were two brothers of Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, a Spaniard detained at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba until 2004. Ahmed himself was not taken into custody, however, police said, contradicting an earlier Europa Press news agency report saying he had been arrested.
Forces sent by boat from the Spanish mainland carried out the operations early Tuesday in neighborhoods all over the city, a police official in Ceuta told The Associated Press. A national police official said at least 11 people had been taken into custody, and that 300 security agents took part in the operation.
Police said they found jihadi documents and incriminating audio and video material during the raids, as well as false identity papers, bulletproof vests and a stash of money.
Rubalcaba said the raids were the results of months of surveillance, and that Spanish authorities had received help from Moroccan intelligence agencies.
Both police officials spoke on condition of anonymity under rules that prohibit them from speaking to the media by name.
Spain has been a target of Islamic militants in the past. On March 11, 2004, a group of mostly North African Muslim extremists blew up four Madrid commuter trains, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,500.
Several other plots have been thwarted before they got off the ground.
Spanish intelligence agencies have stepped up surveillance of at least 250 Islamic radicals, and kept a close eye on mosques believed to espouse violent views.
They have also launched a series of raids on suspected Islamic militants this year, most recently in November, when authorities in Melilla arrested two alleged members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group believed to have had a hand in a 2003 bomb attack in Casablanca.