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Spain sets sights on terror suspect in Swiss jail

Garzon has been leading Spain's fight against terror Keystone

Switzerland has confirmed that it is detaining a man Spanish authorities believe to be the leader of a radical Islamic cell.

This content was published on October 20, 2004 - 17:18

Investigators in Spain allege that the individual masterminded a foiled bomb attack on the country’s National Court in Madrid.

Swiss officials confirmed on Wednesday that the suspect had been arrested for violating Switzerland’s immigration laws.

“The Federal Prosecutor’s Office was not aware of his presence in Switzerland before it was reported by Spanish media,” said Hansjürg Mark Wiedmer, a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office.

“Violations of Swiss residency laws are dealt with by the cantons and are not usually reported to the federal authorities,” he told swissinfo.

Wiedmer declined to give any details about the individual being held, saying only that the authorities would carry out checks in Switzerland and abroad before deciding whether to launch a criminal investigation.

“If there are any possible links to terrorist activities, we will definitely launch an investigation,” he said.

Judicial assistance

Folco Galli, a spokesman at the Swiss justice ministry, said Switzerland could not extradite the suspect until it had received an official warrant from the Spanish authorities.

“We have informed Interpol and the Spanish government in Madrid that the suspect is being held in detention in Zurich,” said Galli.

“The Spanish authorities now have to let us know if they want him to be extradited,” he added.

An official at the Spanish interior ministry in Madrid told Swiss news agency ATS that a request for judicial assistance was “on its way” to Switzerland.

Terror mastermind

Spanish investigators believe the man being held in Switzerland masterminded a plot to blow up Spain’s National Court, a hub of investigations into Islamic terrorism.

Seven other suspects were arrested on Monday in Madrid and southern Spain, and one more on Tuesday in the city of Pamplona. Most are Algerian, and some are suspected of contacts with militants elsewhere in Europe, the United States and Australia.

The alleged terror cell also has links to the Netherlands. One suspect taken in by the Dutch authorities is believed to have been forging passports for a terror network.

Spanish officials had earlier claimed that the Swiss-held suspect, who they say goes by the name of Mohamed Achraf, was arrested at the request of Madrid-based judge Baltasar Garzon.

But the Swiss maintain they have yet to receive any formal instructions from Spain.

Garzon has been leading Spanish terror investigations launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US.

The latest arrests come seven months after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people and have been blamed on Muslim militants linked to al-Qaeda.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Spanish authorities on Monday and Tuesday arrested eight people suspected of involvement in plans to detonate a truck with 500kg of explosives outside the National Court in Madrid.
The court is a hub of investigations into Islamic terrorism.
Judge Baltasar Garzon has been leading Spanish terror investigations launched after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

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In brief

Switzerland is holding an Algerian man suspected of being the mastermind of a foiled bomb attack on Spain’s National Court in Madrid.

The suspect, who according to Spanish authorities goes by the name of Mohamed Achraf, was detained for violating Swiss immigration laws.

A request for judicial assistance from Spain is reportedly on its way to Switzerland.

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