MADRID — Police in Spain, Belgium and Germany on Wednesday arrested five people suspected of forming a cell that spread propaganda and sought to recruit militants for the Islamic State armed group, officials said.
The Spanish Interior Ministry said the cell, made up of four Spaniards and one Moroccan, posed “a grave, concrete and continued threat to security in Europe.”
A ministry statement said the five worked for the Islamic State group by spreading information on several internet sites, among them a Facebook page called “Islam en Espanol” (Islam in Spanish). The site, allegedly managed by two suspects arrested in Belgium and Germany, had 32,500 followers and was growing rapidly, the ministry added.
The statement said one suspect was arrested in Brussels and another in Wuppertal, Germany. Two arrests took place in the northeastern Spanish city of Barcelona and one in the north African Spanish enclave city of Melilla.
The ministry said the group praised and encouraged IS attacks and sought recruits. The ministry said the cell directed its activities toward young Muslims of northwest African background.
The ministry said 113 suspected pro-jihad activists have been arrested in Spain since 2015 while Spanish police had helped arrest 30 more in other countries.
The European Union’s anti-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, said the new arrests show just how much intelligence-sharing is improving.
“The security services and the law-enforcement agencies are sharing much more information than they were before,” he said, on the sidelines of a conference on countering extremism by the Club de Madrid think tank in Brussels. “It’s impressive to see the number of plots which have been foiled in recent weeks, the number of people who have been arrested.”
In Germany, the state interior ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia released a statement saying police had detained a 20-year-old Spanish citizen with Moroccan ancestry who “allegedly spread videos with cruelties on social media mostly in Spain.” It said police also confiscated hard drives, laptops and mobile phones.