MADRID, Spain (AP) – Spain asked Switzerland on Friday to extradite the suspected ringleader of an alleged plot to kill Spanish judges investigating Islamic terror cases, but it could take months for him to be handed over, officials said.

Mohamed Achraf, 31, refused to be extradited through a simplified, fast-track procedure, Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said.

Spain’s Cabinet ministers approved the formal request at a Friday meeting, but it will take several days for the request to reach Switzerland, where Achraf was arrested in September on immigration charges, Spanish court officials said.

Once the request arrives, it could take months before the Swiss Supreme Court rules on it.

Spanish National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon issued an international warrant Wednesday for Achraf’s arrest. The charges against Achraf include belonging to a terrorist organization and attempted murder through terrorism, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Friday.

The Spanish government had 40 days to file an extradition request but did so in just two.

“The government has acted with maximum speed,” Fernandez de la Vega said. “As soon as the National Court gave the corresponding documents to the Justice Ministry, it was agreed to seek his extradition.”

Achraf is believed to be Algerian and to have had ties to the Armed Islamic Group, known as the GIA, which launched a violent campaign in 1992 to topple the Algerian government and set up an Islamic state.

Spain suspects him of leading a militant cell planning an apparent plot to detonate a truck packed with 1,100 pounds of explosives outside the National Court, a hub for investigations of terror cases.

Garzon, an anti-terrorism specialist who was a presumed target of the plot, started questioning 18 suspects Friday. Eight were arrested this week in Spain as the plot was revealed, and 10 others already were jailed. Court officials said the questioning will run through Saturday.

Achraf’s link to the alleged plot surfaced earlier this week after Spanish police, acting on testimony from a protected witness who was in contact with Achraf this summer in Spain, arrested the eight purported cell members.

Spain then alerted Switzerland to Achraf’s alleged role in the scheme.

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office also has opened its own investigation into whether Achraf planned terror acts while in Switzerland.

Achraf was jailed twice in Spain in 1999-2002 for credit card fraud, during which time he allegedly recruited cell members in prison and then faded from police attention to allegedly plot the court attack.

Police said Achraf has used at least six other names and passports from France, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

Achraf applied for asylum in Switzerland in April 2003 but was turned down six months later, said Dominique Boillat, spokesman for Switzerland’s Federal Refugee Office.

“After that, he disappeared,” Boillat told The Associated Press.

Achraf was arrested again Aug. 28 for entering Switzerland without identifying documents. He was held in a detention center for illegal immigrants at Zurich Airport and was awaiting deportation when officials learned he was allegedly linked to the Spanish plot.

Spanish police are believed to have intercepted calls made by Achraf and found mailed instructions from him.

Swiss officials said Achraf was able to make telephone calls and send uncensored mail from his Swiss cell because authorities there were unaware he was a terror suspect.

Letters confiscated from him include several from Mohammed Salameh, who was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings that killed six people and injured more than 1,000, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Friday.

In a February 2003 letter mailed from a federal prison in Colorado to an address in Paris, Salameh stated: “Oh God … let us die as martyrs and meet on Judgment Day with the companions of the prophet,” according to El Pais.

Spanish officials also said Friday the government is investigating whether someone revealed the identity of its informant. The newspaper La Vanguardia quoted police sources as saying the man’s cover had been blown since police made the eight arrests, and he and his family had received death threats.

Some Spanish news organizations have published detailed accounts of the informant’s dealings with alleged Islamic extremists said to be involved in the court plot or in the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in March.

The Interior Ministry said it was investigating.

AP-ES-10-22-04 1329EDT



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