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Bin Laden associate arrested in Spain

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish officials say they have arrested the leader of a cell connected with alleged international terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Mohammed Bensakhria, 34, an Algerian, was apprehended around midday on Friday as he left a telephone calling center in Alicante in southeast Spain, the Spanish Interior Ministry said in a prepared release.

The release called Bensakhria "the Islamic terrorist most wanted in recent months by Western intelligence services."

FBI officials in Washington confirmed Bensakhria has some affiliation with bin Laden but said he is not among the Saudi exile's top lieutenants.

And State Department officials told CNN that they have no information connecting Bensakhria with bin Laden.

Bensakhria was arrested on a French warrant that had been issued after he escaped German police who had been poised to arrest him along with other members of his "commando cell," Meliani, in December in Frankfurt, the Spanish ministry said.

It said police captured weapons and explosives the group had planned to use in France.

The release said members of Meliani had been trained in Afghanistan, where bin Laden's militant al Qaeda organization is alleged to be headquartered.

The group "planned to commit terrorist attacks in France, among them an attack against the cathedral in Strasbourg and another against a market," the Interior Ministry said.

According to the release, Meliani was linked to Islamic activists in Britain and to a group broken up by police in Milan and Varesse, Italy, in April.

"The Meliani group is comprised of various Algerians and was within the structure of Al Qaeda," the release said.

Spanish officials said Bensakhria was masquerading as a poor immigrant and had used two aliases, Mohamed Ben Aissa and the name of the terrorist cell, Meliani.

Bensakhria was jailed in Alicante, and will be transported soon to Madrid for a court appearance and expected proceedings for extradition to France, Spanish officials said.

FBI officials in Washington said Bensakhria is not among those indicted in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, actions allegedly ordered by bin Laden as part of a conspiracy to attack Americans.

CNN's Al Goodman , Peter Humi and Kelli Arena contributed to this report





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• Terrorism Research Center, Inc.

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