MADRID // Police arrested three suspected Al Qaeda members thought to have been planning an attack in Spain or elsewhere in Europe and seized enough explosives to blow up a bus, the Spanish government said yesterday`.
"One of the suspects is a very important operative in Al Qaeda's international structure," Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the interior minister, said.
"This is one of the biggest investigations which has been carried out up until now against the Al Qaeda terrorist group at an international level."
Police found the explosives in a flat in the coastal town of La Linea in Andalucia, where one of the men was detained on Wednesday, the minister added.
The two others were arrested earlier on Wednesday in the central province of Ciudad Real while travelling by bus from the south-western port of Cadiz to Irun, up near the French border.
"There is a clear indication that those arrested could have been planning an attack in Spain or [elsewhere] in Europe," Mr Diaz.
One of the two men detained in Ciudad Real had "used uncommon strength to resist arrest, using the military training he received, and special forces had to intervene," he said.
"These are extremely dangerous people."
Police had had the men under surveillance and decided to swoop in and arrest them when it appeared that they were going to leave Spain.
The Turkish man who was arrested at the flat at La Linea works as a logistics expert for Al Qaeda, Mr Diaz said.
The other two were from former Soviet republics, which the minister did not name.
Police sources told a local radio station that the suspects were two Chechens and a Turk. It also said that as well as the explosives they had had been in possession of poison.
While Mr Diaz said police had so far found no poison, he added that the secret services of other nations had informed Spain that one of the suspects "has extensive experience in the manufacture of poison and car bombs".
He would not comment on Spanish media reports that the three men had links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.
They are blamed for the November 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people.