The United States and Spain pledged yesterday to work together to seek new ways to crack down on terrorism, but the question of the extradition of eight suspected al Qaeda militants held by Spain was not raised. US Attorney General John Ashcroft said during a visit to Madrid that the United States had much to learn from Spain's history, marked by decades of attacks by Basque separatists ETA which have killed more than 800 people. In a joint statement the two nations agreed to “continue seeking ways towards a more effective cooperation in the prevention, investigation and suppression of terrorism and its sources of financing”. A US embassy spokeswoman said the question of whether the suspected members of Osama bin Laden's militant network currently held by Spain could be extradited was not discussed by Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy and Ashcroft. Spanish law prevents the extradition of suspects to countries where they could face the death penalty or trial outside the regular court system, including trials in military tribunals -- which US President George W. Bush has ordered for foreign terrorism suspects. According to the Interior Ministry, Spain is currently holding a total of 14 suspected members of al Qaeda. Washington is spearheading a campaign to dismantle militant organisations including al Qaeda, believed to be behind the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Madrid meanwhile has pledged that the fight against terrorism will head the agenda while it has the rotating European Union presidency for the first half of 2002.

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