MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Police on Friday arrested 16 suspected members of the al-Qaida terrorist network believed preparing new attacks and with connections with other alleged terrorists arrested recently in Britain and France, officials said.
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said police seized a large amount of explosive and chemical materials and documents in the raids on 12 apartments in Barcelona and other cities in northeastern Spain.
``Those arrested were preparing to commit attacks with explosives and chemical materials,'' Aznar told a press conference in the northwestern city of A Coruna.
There were no immediate details on the possible targets of the alleged attacks.
Some 150 police officers using sniffer dogs took part in the pre-dawn raids, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.
``The network that has been dismantled had connections with the Islamic terrorists detained recently in France and the United Kingdom,'' Acebes said.
An Interior Ministry statement said four alleged Islamic terrorists arrested in December in France had previously been in Spain and had had contact with those arrested Friday.
``Those arrested facilitated information and infrastructure to other Islamic terrorist groups, they had explosives, they used chemical products and were connected with terrorist cells established in Britain and France,'' the statement said.
British police have carried out a series of arrests this month since the deadly poison ricin was found in a London apartment on Jan. 5. In late December, the French police arrested four alleged Islamic militants who they said were planning bomb or gas attacks in France and Russia.
Acebes said those detained Friday in Spain were mostly Algerian citizens and suspected members of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an Algerian extremist organization. He said they maintained contact with groups in Chechnya and Algeria.
Acebes said they had links to Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon but did not elaborate.
Police also found containers with some chemical components found in resins and synthetic rubber. They also confiscated timing and remote-control devices of the type used in bombs, as well as documents, including forged passports.
The detainees were to be questioned this weekend in Madrid by National Court investigative magistrate Guillermo Ruiz Polanco, the judge who authorized the operation, Acebes said.
The arrests were made at the request of authorities in Britain and France, said sources close to Ruiz Polanco who spoke on condition of anonymity.
With Friday's arrests, Spain has now detained 35 suspected Islamic terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks, Acebes said. Most of the detained remain in jail while several have been released on bail.
Mohamed Atta, one of the pilots in the World Trade Center attacks, is believed to have held meetings with other al-Qaida members in Spain in the year running up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Prior to Friday's raids, the most recent arrest was Dec. 26 when an Algerian man was detained in the northern region of La Rioja on suspicion of links to GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and of having trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.
The raids followed investigations carried out after the arrest in June 2001 of suspected Islamic terrorist Mohammed Bensakhria in southeastern Spain, the ministry statement said.
Bensakhiria, allegedly an important operative for Osama bin Laden, was extradited to France.