U.S. citizen with al Qaeda links arrested in Spain

MADRID Wed Sep 29, 2010 7:21am EDT

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MADRID (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen of Algerian descent arrested in Barcelona has been accused of helping to finance al Qaeda's North African wing, Spain's national police said on Wednesday.

Mohamed Omar Debhi, 43, who was arrested on Tuesday, is suspected of sending 60,000 euros ($81,660) to Algeria, where the money was distributed to cells of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), police said.

"According to police investigations, Debhi sent large amounts of money by either bank transfer or through several people to Algerian citizen Toufik Mizi," the police said in a statement.

Mizi fled Spain in 2006 after he was accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, following the dismantling of an Islamic cell dedicated to raising funds for AQIM.

Police seized laptops, hard disks and documentation from Debhi's residence in the Esplugues de Llobregat district of Barcelona on Tuesday.

AQIM has stepped up activities in the desert region of Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania. The group grew out of Algeria's Salafist movement -- which organized attacks against Algerian security forces in the 1990s -- and has since shifted south in the vast and lawless Sahel, the semi-arid zone skirting the Saharan desert.

Security analysts say the group raises funds through ransoming hostages and involvement in drug trafficking.

In late August two Spanish aid workers returned to Spain after being kidnapped by AQIM for nearly nine months. AQIM has said Spain is one of its targets because it is an ally of the United States and part of NATO.

(Reporting by Blanca Rodriguez; writing by Nigel Davies; editing by Michael Roddy)

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