Four of the 14 men arrested for allegedly recruiting young terrorists in Britain visited extremist camps in North Africa while under police surveillance, it has emerged.
Police believe the quartet met radical Islamic jihadists in Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia, which are all hotbeds of fanaticism.
The men were followed as they passed through Spain on a trip in April.
Three of their names were on a police database calling for “discreet vigilance” of their movements during the early stages of a nine-month surveillance operation by Scotland Yard and MI5.
The operation resulted in their arrest on Friday night on suspicion of indoctrinating and grooming young men at an Islamic school in Sussex.
Details of their trip to North Africa were revealed yesterday by the Spanish Interior Ministry, which said in a statement: “In April 2006 as part of a National Police operation into jihadist training camps, police detected and controlled the movement of four of those arrested in London on September 1.
“At the beginning of April the suspects crossed through a land border in the north of Spain and left two days later in a commercial ferry towards north Africa.
“A short time later they returned to Spain by the same route and left Spain in the direction of France by a land frontier.
“They only used Spanish territory as a passageway. Interested foreign intelligence services were notified.
“There were four other men on the trip with them.”
The Interior Ministry gave the men’s initials as M.H, born in Tanzania in 1957, M.A.B. born in the UK in 1966, K.D, born in 1983 and S.J, born in 1985.
Police had earlier had intelligence that three of the men planned to visit Granada in southern Spain in July 2005 but they never arrived, the ministry said.
Most of the 14 arrests – on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism – were made at The Bridge to China Town restaurant in Borough, south London. Others were held in a series of raids on properties in the capital.
The men were yesterday still being held at London’s high-security Paddington Green police station as officers continued to search the grounds of the Islamic school alleged to have been used for an Al Qaeda training camp.
Teams of specially-trained officers spent a third day sweeping woodland and a lake at the Jameah Islameah school near Crowborough, East Sussex.
It emerged yesterday that police were sent for diversity training at the school to learn more about the Muslim faith and understand more about their communities.
Sussex Police confirmed the school has been used by officers and staff ‘undergoing advanced training for their role as diversity trainers to the rest of the workforce’.
‘This has involved a series of one-day visits to the school by groups of two or three trainers on up to 15 occasions over more than a year,’ it said.
‘This work supports current developments in police training to take advantage of the resources available to us in the community to improve our knowledge and awareness of the many diverse communities that we serve in Sussex.
Among those arrested on Friday were Abu Abdullah, a key aide of hook-handed hate preacher Abu Hamza.
Police believe Abdullah, 42, played a leading role in a bid to ‘recruit, indoctrinate and groom’ young British Muslims to become terrorists.
He was arrested just days after he caused widespread revulsion by stating he would ‘love’ to kill British troops in Afghanistan.
At least five of those detained are recent Western-converts to Islam who, police believe, were being brainwashed into becoming Al Qaeda terrorists.
Although the investigation is focusing on the Islamic school in Sussex, detectives believe there is a network of rural terror-training camps across Britain – with similar exercises being carried out in the Yorkshire Dales, north Wales, the Lake District and the Highlands in Scotland.