The Algerian-born terror suspect accused of recruiting Colleen "Jihad Jane" LaRose of Montgomery County in a 2009 plot to assassinate a Swedish artist was arrested Thursday in Spain, seven months after he dodged a U.S. bid to extradite him from Ireland.
Spanish authorities said Friday that they detained Ali Charaf Damache, 50, at a hotel along Barcelona's busy Avinguda Meridiana after receiving a phone tip that he was living in the city.
The Justice Department will again seek his extradition to face terrorism-related charges in Philadelphia, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Damache, who holds dual Algerian and Irish citizenship, was living in Ireland when, in 2011, a federal grand jury charged him with one count each of terrorism conspiracy and attempted identity theft.
Prosecutors here have alleged that he recruited several Americans to join a cell he was attempting to establish for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in Algeria. Three recruits - including LaRose - are currently serving prison terms for their involvement.
But an Irish High Court judge refused to extradite Damache to the United States in May, citing concerns over U.S. prison conditions. Justice Aileen Donnelly also questioned why Irish authorities had not tried to prosecute him first for his purported crimes. She ordered his release from custody. Ireland's attorney general appealed.
It remained unclear Friday when Damache arrived in Spain and why he was there. Had he remained in Ireland, it is likely he would have remained free at least until the resolution of the appeal.
Spanish security officials told reporters Friday that they believed Damache had been in Barcelona "only for a few days" and changed his location often, spending no more than one or two nights in the same hotel. They said they did not believe he had committed any crimes in the country.
Video released by authorities showed masked law enforcement officers guiding Damache, dressed in jeans and a black button-down shirt and with his hair closely cropped, to an awaiting police car. He was later taken before a judge in Madrid and provisionally jailed pending a hearing on the U.S. extradition request.
Damache had been expected to appear Friday at a hearing in Dublin. His lawyer sought a postponement of the extradition appeal there, which had been scheduled for a hearing in early January, according to court filings.
Known by his online moniker "theblackflag," Damache emerged as a shadowy figure in the case against LaRose and her codefendants - one of the earliest prosecutions in this country of U.S. citizens seeking to aid violent jihadist efforts abroad.
Prosecutors say he used jihadist websites between 2008 and 2011 to recruit light-skinned women and others who did not fit the stereotypical terrorist profile.
His targets included the blond, blue-eyed LaRose; Jamie Paulin Ramirez, a Hispanic single mother from Colorado; and Mohammad Hassan Khalid, a former high school honors student from Maryland who was, at the time of his guilty plea, the youngest person ever convicted in the United States on terrorism charges.
According to court filings, Damache persuaded LaRose and Ramirez to join him in Waterford, Ireland, with promises that they would launch an attack on Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist whose work depicting Muhammad's head on the body of a dog offended some Muslims.
Ramirez, who took her son with her, married Damache the day of her arrival in the country. LaRose became disenchanted and eventually left the group, calling an FBI tip line seeking money to return home.
But at her sentencing hearing last year, LaRose still spoke of Damache with admiration.
"I had so much respect for him. I had this emotional attachment to him," she told U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker. "He was so brave."
She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and is serving her term in Tallahassee, Fla. Ramirez was sentenced to eight years. Khalid was released last week after serving his prison term. Damache could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted in the U.S.
His lawyers in Ireland did not return calls for comment Friday.