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Islamic Extremism

Syrian suicide-bomber recruiter was “a reference point for jihad” in Ceuta

Alleged terrorist in exclave has been arrested after being tracked by Spanish intelligence

Karim Abdesalam Mohamed, 39, who is alleged to be a suicide-bomber recruiter for Syrian rebels, was on the radar of several major intelligence services for some time. But he apparently operated without due caution.

Last March, dressed in a tunic, he addressed the faithful at the Badr mosque in Ceuta, where he told followers that if the imam didn't change the direction of his preaching the entire place of worship would be closed. Accompanied by a group of his followers, Karim ordered the mosque's doors shut and warned the people they would not leave unless they promised to obey his orders. Days later, the Moroccan-born imam at the mosque was severely beaten.

On June 21, Karim was arrested for the third time, along with seven others, by Spanish law enforcement for allegedly recruiting young men for suicide missions in Syria. It was Karim, according to Spanish intelligence officers, who would break the news to their families.

"Your husband has died," he would often tell the wives of these men. This is how Sanaa, 25, found out that her 33-year-old husband, Rachid Wahbi, the father of two young girls, had died in Syria. Karim said that Rachid left "a living testimony" behind - a video showing a man driving a truck rigged with a bomb into a military headquarters. The attack caused 130 deaths.

His lawyer, Marcos García Montes, called Karim "a spiritual bohemian"

On a Ceuta beach, Karim would meet with his followers to collect money for the suicide bombers to travel to Turkey and then off to Syria to fight against the government of Bachar Al Asad.

Karim, who worked as a chicken farmer, is married but has no children. Before his arrest, he was living in El Principe - a district where the now-broken-up Spanish-Moroccan Al Qaeda branch recruited young men.

Before sending him and seven others to prison last week, High Court Judge Ismael Moreno described Karim as "a point of reference for jihad" in Ceuta, a Spanish exclave of 80,000 people.

His lawyer, Marcos García Montes, has defended Karim by calling him a spiritual bohemian. But officials at Spain's National Intelligence Center (CNI) and the Civil Guard had been trailing Karim for some time, and watched as he threatened followers at the Badr mosque.

The last time Karim was arrested, charges were dropped against him and two others known to be connected to the Taliban by the High Court, which found no evidence that he or his followers were ever planning on carrying out any terrorist attacks in Ceuta and Melilla.

"To me, he seemed very radical in the way he expressed himself. He seemed the most dangerous of the group. I thought at the time that we would soon see him back in front of us," recalled one member of the High Court.