Spain arrests American 'who funded al-Qaeda'

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A US citizen has been arrested in Spain for sending money to al-Qaeda's North African branch, Spanish officials say.

Mohamed Omar Debhi, who is of Algerian descent, is accused of sending more than 60,000 euros (£52,000; $82,000) to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The group frequently kidnaps Europeans travelling in the Sahara Desert regions of Mali, Niger, Algeria and Mauritania.

Last month, the militants freed two Spanish aid workers who they had held for nine months.

The militants had reportedly demanded a $5m ransom for the Spaniards, but Madrid officials refused to comment on whether any money had changed hands.

The group is still holding five French citizens snatched from a uranium mine in Niger two weeks ago.

Campaign of attacks

Mr Debhi, 43, who was arrested in the Esplugues de Llobregat district of Barcelona, is accused of funding the group by sending money to an Algerian who police named as Toufik Mizi.

Spanish police said Mr Mizi had fled Spain some years ago when the authorities cracked a cell of al-Qaeda fund-raisers.

US officials have not commented on the arrest, and little is known of Mr Debhi's American connections - although it is believed he once lived near Houston in Texas.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb emerged in early 2007 from an Algerian militant group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which aligned itself with Osama Bin Laden's international terror network.

It has waged a campaign of suicide bomb attacks and ambushes in Algeria, and in recent years has become more active in the Sahara, where governments struggle to impose their authority and gangs of smugglers, bandits and rebels operate alongside the militants.

In July, the group said it had killed Michel Germaneau, a 78-year-old French hostage being held in Mali, after a cross-border raid involving French and Mauritanian troops failed to free him.

AQIM also killed the British hostage Edwin Dyer last year after the UK government refused to give in to its demands.

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