Pakistani militant groups linked to al Qaeda have established a "strong presence" in northern Spain, according to senior French and Pakistani intelligence officials, who expressed concern that Islamist extremists were establishing Spain-based cells to launch terror attacks on western Europe.
A top Pakistani intelligence official told ABC News that following a "crunch" by British counterterrorism authorities on Pakistani militant networks in the U.K. after the July 2005 bombings, "dozens of local leaders for groups, such as Jaish e Muhammad ('Army of Muhammad' in Arabic) and Lashkar e Tayyba ('Army of the Pure' in Urdu) moved to Spain," settling in the area around Barcelona.
They have since established a very strong "rear base" in Barcelona to support terrorist activity in Britain, setting up logistics and recruitment networks in the local Pakistani community, the source said.
One Pakistani law enforcement source told ABC News there were reports that several young Pakistanis based in Spain had been sent to a compound near Razmak in North Waziristan for training in explosives.
"They have not been heard of since," he said.
Asked if he thought al Qaeda would repeat the same tactics used in the London bombings and use these locals of Pakistani origin to conduct terrorist attacks in Europe, the same source said, "Definitely. That is their base scenario. That is their biggest strength."
"We had a hunch that the militants were operating with more intensity," said Gustavo D'aristegui, a member of Spanish Parliament who has studied Islamist terrorism in Spain. "There are over 60,000 Pakistani nationals living in Barcelona legally, and among those, there's a percentage, we don't know the size, of very radical individuals who give money to movements and organizations like Jaish e Muhammad."
A senior French counterterrorism source also confirmed to ABC News both Jaish e Muhammad and Lashkar e Tayyba had settled in northern Spain, adding that in some cases French intelligence authorities had found links between the Spanish networks and those of similar groups in France, where the Pakistani community is small and under extremely close watch by the authorities.
The networks have been mainly used to recruit and send volunteers to fight against NATO troops in Afghanistan, the source told ABC News, but they are also used by al Qaeda. He added that these Pakistani networks had also linked up with other al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa, GSPC -- now named "Al Qaeda Organization in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb" -- in Algeria and GICM in Morocco to recruit and send volunteers to Iraq via Syria.