Spanish court jails ex-Guantanamo inmate

Madrid (AFP) - A Spanish court jailed a former Guantanamo Bay inmate for 11 and a half years Wednesday after convicting him of leading a recruitment cell that sent jihadists to fight in Syria.

The National Court sentenced Lahcen Ikassrien, a 48-year-old Moroccan, to 10 years in prison for leading a terrorist organisation and one year and six months for falsifying an official document.

After being extradited to Spain from Guantanamo Bay in 2005, he was found to have led a cell from Madrid that dispatched recruits to Syria for the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra militant groups.

The court also sentenced eight members of the cell -- six Moroccans, an Argentinian and a Bulgarian -- to eight years in jail for membership of a terrorist organisation.

"The accused had full knowledge that the jihadist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant were jihadist structures under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda," the court said in its ruling.

The cell "recruited, radicalised, indoctrinated and then sent jihadist volunteers" to Syria for the two groups between 2011 and June 2014 when police disbanded it, the court added.

Police arrested Ikassrien and the eight other members of the group in June 2014 in Madrid.

- Major crackdown -

More than 100 people from Spain are suspected of having joined jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to the interior ministry, and authorities fear they may return to launch attacks.

In a major crackdown on militants, Spanish police have arrested scores of suspected recruiters in recent years.

Ikassrien, a former gardener, cook and construction worker, was arrested in 2001 in Afghanistan where he was fighting for the Taliban.

He spent four years in custody at Guantanamo Bay before he was extradited to Spain.

A Spanish court determined there was not enough evidence that he had ties to an Al-Qaeda cell and he was released.

US President Barack Obama urgently wants to shutter the Guantanamo facility, where suspects have been held for the last 15 years, before he leaves the White House at the start of next year.

But his efforts have been continually thwarted by Republican lawmakers because of fears former prisoners could launch attacks on Americans.

Roughly 780 men have passed through the facility since it was opened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to hold terror suspects.

The population now stands at 61, down from 242 when Obama took office in January 2009.

According to US government statistics, about 13 percent of prisoners freed from Guantanamo since Obama took office have returned to violent extremism, or are believed to have done so, down from 35 percent under former president George W. Bush.