Gang accused of funding Al Qaeda in Syria arrested in Spain

More than 350 officers took part in raids on 14 homes in Madrid, Toledo and Valencia leading to 10 arrests

Smoke billows during reported Syrian government forces' bombardments on the village of Sheikh Mustafa in the southern countryside of the jihadist-held Idlib province. AFP
Smoke billows during reported Syrian government forces' bombardments on the village of Sheikh Mustafa in the southern countryside of the jihadist-held Idlib province. AFP

A criminal gang accused of funding Al Qaeda in Syria by running an international economic terror scam from Spain have appeared in court.

More than 350 officers took part in raids on 14 homes in Madrid, Toledo and Valencia leading to 10 arrests.

Spanish police launched the major operation to crack down on the alleged funding operation which was being run by members of the same family.

Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, said: “The leaders of the organisation form a family clan which committed tax fraud and money laundering crimes through the massive use of false invoices obtained by an illegal business they had been running for years.

“The proceeds of their illegal business was sent to Syria via the Hawala system, allowing the transfer of money without any physical transportation of cash, in order to support Al Qaeda terrorist militias in the Syrian region of Idlib.

“The organisation is part of a huge international clandestine structure, with the aim of attacking the Western economic system as a form of terrorism.”

The group of Spanish nationals are originally from Syria and allegedly have family ties to Al Qaeda extremists in Syria.

Spain’s Interior Ministry claims the gang laundered money through a legitimate business to fund the terrorists.

It alleges money was sent over wires, in suitcases and trafficked by humans to opposition-held Idlib.

On Thursday, a judge at the National Court Manuel García Castellón remanded seven of them into custody and three others were released but ordered to answer bail every 15 days and surrender their passports.

One of those arrested was previously jailed in Syria in 2008 for his involvement in an attack and for being a member of the Fatah al Islam terror group.

"The organisation was led by a family clan that for years allegedly used a legal business structure to hide illicit operations with which they evaded tax authorities and laundered large amounts of money," the ministry said in a statement.

"The detainees allegedly took away money from each legal operation, substituting the real amount of the operation in the receipt with another lower value amount.”

Europol supported the Spanish authorities in the operation and was joined by experts from the European Counter Terrorism Centre.

In February, Spain launched a new counter-terrorism strategy focusing on ISIS and Al Qaeda.

More than 230 Spanish nationals have left the country to fight for terror groups, it is believed almost 50 of them have returned.

It’s not the first time Spain has been used by Al Qaeda, prior to the 9/11 atrocity terrorists met there.

A top level meeting of conspirators was held in Tarragona just months before the attack.

Spain was also the scene of a high-profile mass trial of 9/11 plotters in 2005 that led to the imprisonment of 18 individuals linked to Al Qaeda.

Published: June 21, 2019 04:46 PM

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