MADRID (Reuters) - Islamist extremists were planning attacks across Europe, especially against public transport, before their arrests in Barcelona last weekend, a Spanish paper reported on Saturday, citing a would-be attacker’s testimony.
The Al Qaeda-inspired cell planned to attack the Barcelona metro and other targets in Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and the U.K., said the bomber turned police informant.
In testimony that led to the arrest of 14 South Asians last Saturday, the informant told police the group had a preference for attacks on public transport, especially metro systems, El Pais newspaper reported.
“If we attack the metro, the emergency services can’t get there,” the informant said he was told by a fellow suicide bomber, El Pais reported.
Two pairs with explosive-filled bags were to enter separate Barcelona subway stations and other members of the group were to detonate their bombs by remote control, said the witness.
On Friday, Spain’s government said the Barcelona cell was preparing to carry out the metro attack either last weekend or in the following 15 days.
Two other pairs of suicide bombers had been assigned targets elsewhere in Spain, another was to attack Germany, three were given objectives in France and two more were to strike Portugal.
The informant said the Barcelona cell had six suicide bombers and other members responsible for preparing explosives and planning attacks in other European states. Four of those arrested have since been released due to lack of evidence.
Al Qaeda was to take responsibility for the Barcelona attacks through Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander the Pakistani government says was behind the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, El Pais said.
“Only the leadership of the organization knows what requests the emir (Baitullah) will make after the first attack, but if they are not carried out, there will be a second attack, a third in Spain. And next Germany, France, Portugal, United Kingdom,” the head of the cell told the police informer, El Pais reported.
The Barcelona bombings could have taken place less than two months before Spain’s March 9 general election.
Islamic militants attacked Madrid commuter trains days before Spain’s last general election in March 2004, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800. They said the attacks were made in revenge for Spain sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Michael Winfrey