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Spain steps up embassy security

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

Aznar: Spanish troops won't participate in combat.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish police vehicles topped with machine guns were standing guard outside the American, British and Israeli embassies in the Spanish capital as security was beefed up ahead of the likely war in Iraq, CNN observed Wednesday.

Spain -- which has been among America's staunchest allies on the Iraq issue -- said it was heightening security across the nation at potentially sensitive sites, including non-Spanish locations.

Meanwhile, some 900 Spanish troops and three ships were preparing to join coalition forces in the Persian Gulf.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar announced the deployment Tuesday but insisted the troops would not take part in offensive combat operations.

Those forces are scheduled to leave Thursday, soon after the expiration of U.S. President George W. Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to quit his post or face war.

Iraq has warned Spain repeatedly in recent weeks that it should rethink its lockstep stance with the United States.

One Iraqi official called Sunday's summit meeting in the Azores, attended by the United States, Britain and Spain, a "summit of the outlaws."

El Pais, Spain's most widely circulated newspaper, cited unnamed anti-terror sources Wednesday as saying they believe there is a chance -- albeit small -- that Islamic terrorists would strike in Spain.

Since the September 11 attacks, Spain has arrested about 40 suspected Islamic terrorists. Many of them have been linked by authorities to al Qaeda. Most of those suspects remain in jail; none has faced trial.

Two dark blue armored police vehicles are stationed outside the U.S. Embassy, one outside the British Embassy and another at the Israeli Embassy.

Additional national police officers were also observed at the three embassies.

Similar security measures were put in place at those locations for a period after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

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