© Spanish Interior Ministry/Associated Press
Three "suspected" members of Al Qaeda detained Wednesday in Spain are shown in undated photos released by the Spanish Interior Ministry.
The Spanish government said on Thursday that it had arrested three men suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and believed to have been planning attacks in Europe.
The Spanish Interior Ministry released photographs of the three but offered only minimal details. The Associated Press, quoting the Spanish police, said that one was Russian, the second a Russian of Chechen descent and the third a Turk. They were arrested as part of a 24-hour police operation carried out between Tuesday night and Wednesday.
The Spanish interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, said in an interview by telephone that the men had been in Spain for about two months and under close surveillance for several weeks. "We have clear indications that an attack was being planned, whether in Spain or another European country or even both," Mr. Fernández Díaz said.
He would not discuss the suspects' likely targets, but said that they had received military-style training and were "clearly not acting as lone wolves." Among the evidence gathered by the police was "documentation about flying ultralight aircraft," he said.
The Turk, who appeared to be acting as a facilitator, was arrested in La Línea de la Concepción, a town in southern Spain just north of Gibraltar, in a rented home where the police also found explosives, officials said. The two others were intercepted while traveling by bus near Valdepeñas in central Spain on their way from southern Spain to the northeastern border with France. At least one fiercely resisted arrest, although the minister said that no gun was fired.
He said it was apparently their effort to leave Spain that set off the operation.
The explosives, the minister said, "would have been sufficient to explode a bus, but that doesn't mean that more damage couldn't have been done."
One of the outstanding concerns is whether the men - and any possible accomplices - might have had other weaponry that they managed to conceal in the 24 hours that it took to complete the police operation.
"It's a hypothesis, but it's clear that a lot could have happened during that time," Mr. Fernández Díaz said.
He said part of the follow-up work would be handled by Russia, because "the Russian services are now helping us find out more about these very well trained people and their apparently very violent past."
Spain has recently arrested several people thought to have links to Islamic terrorist organizations. Last month, two Spanish citizens were arrested in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, on suspicion of terrorism. In March, the Spanish police in Valencia arrested a Saudi citizen described as "the librarian" of Al Qaeda, in charge of its propaganda and recruitment activities.
"This operation, as well as those in Melilla and Valencia, shows that we are well on top of this threat and making sure that such a threat doesn't translate into actual attacks," Mr. Fernández Díaz said.