Islamic radicals may have been plotting attacks in Barcelona, Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said on Saturday, after police found bomb-making materials and arrested 14 South Asians.
Rubalcaba told a news conference that civil guard police found explosives and other equipment during raids on five addresses in Spain's second city, and arrested 12 Pakistanis and two Indians after receiving information from its own and other European intelligence agencies.
Spain suffered Europe's deadliest Islamist attack when four Madrid trains were bombed in March 2004, killing 191 commuters and wounding a further 1,800, three days before a general election. With less than two months before Spain's next national poll, Rubalcaba said security services remained on high alert.
The interior minister said Saturday's raids were distinct from many operations against Islamic militants in the past, which largely targeted groups seeking to finance radical groups or recruit members to fight.
"Here we are looking at something different: a well-organised group who were going beyond ideological radicalism to acquiring materials to make explosives and therefore eventually to carry out violent attacks," he said.
Spain's intelligence services have warned France, Portugal and the UK that radicals, principally of Pakistani origin, were ready to launch imminent attacks, newspaper website El Pais reported. It gave no further details.
Spain's Interior Ministry regards Islamic militants, rather than Basque separatists ETA, as Spain's greatest security threat and has significantly beefed up surveillance of mosques and employed more Arabic translators in the last four years.
Rubalcaba said the group, which had stockpiled bomb-making materials including timers and ball-bearings, had been ready to act. Computers were also seized during the operation in the historic district of Raval just after midnight.
One of raided targets included a prominent mosque; media quoted local residents as saying.
In September 2004, 11 Pakistanis were arrested in Barcelona, accused of planning attacks in the port city. All were cleared, although three were jailed last year for raising money destined for Muslim militants while two others were found guilty of forging documents.
The latest plot's discovery comes a day before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf starts a European tour that takes in Brussels, Paris, the World Economic Forum in Davos and London.