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Spain arrests 3 in potential al-Qaida plot

MADRID -- Police have arrested three suspected members of al-Qaida who amassed explosives and may have been plotting attacks in Spain or elsewhere in Europe, Spain's interior minister said yesterday. Authorities found evidence suggesting they were experimenting with ultralight planes and remote-controlled planes.

The three -- a Russian, a Russian of Chechen descent, and a Turk, according to Spanish police -- were detained Wednesday. The Turk was arrested in the southern city of La Linea bordering the British colony of Gibraltar, while the other two were picked up near the central city of Ciudad Real as they traveled toward a northern town near the border with France.

Enough explosive material was found in the house in La Linea, where the Turk lived, to blow up a bus, and the material could have been especially dangerous if combined with shrapnel, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said.

Fernandez Diaz did not disclose the suspects' names, but said the Russians were suspected al-Qaida operatives while the Turk was a facilitator. Pictures were released by Spanish authorities, but the suspects were identified only by their initials: C.Y. for the Turk and A.A.A. and M.A. for the other two.

The mug shots showed three men who appeared to be in their 30s, two with crew cuts and one with scraggly hair down to his shoulders.

Investigators found no indications that the three were targeting Gibraltar, he said, declining to offer specifics on possible targets, except that "there are clear indications they could have been planning an attack in Spain and/or another country."

"This is one of the most important operations carried out against al-Qaida," Fernandez Diaz told reporters.

The arrests came as the Summer Olympics were being held in Britain under tight security against possible terrorist attacks, including military aircraft and ground-to-air missiles.

Spanish authorities had been watching the suspects for "some time," the minister said, and decided to arrest them after the two Russians took a bus toward France.

They departed from the southern city of Cadiz en route to the northern town of Irun, possibly planning to cross into France, the minister said. The pair had been in Spain for about two months. Cadiz is near the large U.S. military base in Rota alongside the Mediterranean.

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