MADRID/TOKYO - Spanish and Moroccan police have arrested nine people suspected of belonging to a militant cell linked to Islamic State, including the leader of the cell, Spain’s Interior Ministry said on Friday.

The ministry said the nine belonged to a group based in the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the northern coast of Africa and neighbouring Nador in Morocco.

The leader of the group was of Spanish nationality, born in Morocco and resident in Melilla, the ministry said. The rest were Moroccan nationals, according to Spanish press reports.

Those arrested had coordinated training with groups linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) in northern Mali and worked with the leader’s brother, a former Spanish soldier and weapons and explosives specialist, the ministry said.

Another two men were arrested in Britain on Friday as part of an operation into Islamist-related militancy, as lawmakers prepared to approve Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to join US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

The two men, who were not named, were arrested on the M6 motorway in England by counter-terrorism officers, bringing the total number of people detained in the British operation to 11 in two days.  Nine Japanese nationals have joined Islamic State, Japan’s former air force chief, Toshio Tamogami, quoted a senior Israeli government official as saying, but the government’s top spokesman said on Friday it had not confirmed the information.

Tamogami, now a senior official of a tiny new political party, said on his blog that Nissim Ben Shitrit, the director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, told him this month that nine Japanese had taken part in Islamic State. Asked about the possible participation of Japanese citizens in the militant group, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference, “The government has not confirmed such information.”

No one was immediately available for comment at the Israeli embassy in Tokyo, at the Israeli foreign ministry or at the Japanese foreign ministry. Tamogami told Reuters that no details besides the number of Japanese participants were given to him in his meeting with Nissim Ben Shitrit, a former ambassador to Japan. “I don’t know anything further,” Tamogami said. “He was tight-lipped.”

Tamogami’s blog shows the meeting took place on Sept. 12 in Israel. About 1,000 recruits from a vast region stretching from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq, the head of the US Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said on Thursday.

His comment came as a threat by Philippine militants to kill a German hostage, in a show of solidarity with Islamic State, has stoked fresh concern the Middle East group’s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region.

Meanwhile, the emir of Qatar has denied accusations that his country funds extremist groups in Syria, while stressing the Gulf state’s commitment to the US-led campaign against Islamic State militants.

“We don’t fund extremists,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said in an interview with CNN aired Thursday. “If you talk about certain movements, especially in Syria and Iraq, we all consider them terrorist movement.”

“But there are differences. There are differences that some countries and some people (believe) that any group which comes from Islamic background are terrorists. And we don’t accept that.”

Qatar has been accused of funding Islamist groups in Syria, as well as Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, following Arab Spring uprisings.

But the gas-rich emirate, home to a major US military base, is now taking part in Washington’s campaign against the Islamic State group, which has seized swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The emir confirmed this participation.

“We’ve been asked by our American friends if we can join, and we did,” he said.

But he insisted that beyond defeating extremist movements in Syria, the long-term aim should be to punish the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The main cause of all this is the regime in Syria, and this regime should be punished,” he said.

“If we think that we’re going to get rid of the terrorist movements and leave those regimes doing what - this regime especially, doing what he is doing - then terrorist movements will come back again,” he warned.

More than 180,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to a monitoring group. The United Nations puts the figure at 191,000.