Society

Spain: Between bombs and calls for freedom

Article published on Sept. 13, 2006
From the magazine
Article published on Sept. 13, 2006
192 deaths and thousands of injuries was a harsh wake up call for Spain. On March 11, the country started their fight against Jihadist terrorism

August 18, Seville. A bus driver cries out in panic: somebody has left an unattended bag underneath their seat. All the alarms go off. After the evacuation of the distressed passengers and the intervention of the police, calm is restored. The bag only contained the trinkets of a travelling salesman. Two years ago, nobody would have taken any notice of this package. This goes to show how the need to stay alert is penetrating society.

Against the conquest of Spain?

Despite the government’s refusal to acknowledge the truth, Spain has always been a target for Islamists. Their objective is to make the old Al-Andalus (The Southern part of Spain) pay for their deviation from Islam after eight centuries of Muslim Control. “The fact that Spaniards refused to follow the example of those considered to be the founding fathers of their movement (the ancient Almoravides and Almohads of Medieval Spain), seems simply unacceptable to them,” explains Gustavo de Arístegui, Popular Party Congress Foreign Affairs spokesman and expert of Arabic affairs.

The fall of the kingdom of Granada (1492) is a collective trauma for Islam, a turning point in the decline of their power. Most Muslims believe that Spain should reintegrate the umma (community of believers). According to extremists, Spain has become a country of heretics and must be attacked and punished.

Too much confidence

It was only in the 80s that danger became imminent. On 12 April 1985, the Lebanese Islamic Jihad killed 18 people in a bar called El Descanso in Madrid. Stronger attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah and the Algerian GIA revealed that an emerging Islamist threatened Europe. But governments remained focused on ETA. In 1998, Osama Bin Laden upstaged ETA for the first time: until then, alleged Spanish terrorists had only financed attacks abroad.

The hardest thing to explain is that, despite the signs of imminent danger, security services “evidently weren’t interested in tackling the problem,” reports De Arístegui. Why? The risk seemed too remote. It was only after September 11 that the authorities took the threat seriously. Swift action was needed. Indeed the pilot of the first plane to hit the World Trade Centre, Mohamed Atta, had joined a network in Tarragona which financed his terrorist activities.

A concentration of terrorist hubs

The National Intelligence Centre confirms that there are about a thousand Islamists hiding in Spain today and a small number of them would be prepared to kill others or to sacrifice themselves. Experts divide them into six main groups: the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, the GIA (which created the Salafists), the Soldiers of Allah, Ansar al-Islam, the Islamic Group of Marroqui Combat, and of course Al Qaeda, which inspires and links the five other groups.

Each network contains cells which recruits terrorists and funds different missions. They steal from expensive houses, falsify credit cards and documents and control money obtained through money laundering. In fact, despite Islam renouncing vices such as drugs, they are involved in trafficking illegal substances especially hash. “It is a way of further corrupting youths in the West,” argues Javier Jordán, professor of the Political Science department at the University of Granada.

Concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, Andalusia, Aragon, Madrid and Barcelona, they attack Spain because it is a weak country. Its proximity to Arabic countries, the growing number of immigrants and the existence of a strong black market are many reasons why the country is so vulnerable to attacks. “Spain was a country of trusting people who were never aware of the problem,” complains Fernando Reinares advisor to President Rodriguez Zapatero and member of the UN Terrorism Prevention Branch.

Struggling without drowning

Unlike the US and the UK which has accumulated antiterrorist measures (use of private information, lengthening of provisional detention periods, attempts to control the freedom of expression of Imams), the Spanish authorities have opted for more moderate regulations. The intelligence services have proved to be more efficient, better coordinated, and more competent in sharing information (a key quality in a country with two national police forces and another two autonomous ones). Following the international resolutions protecting human rights in the fight against terrorism, Spain has adopted the Alliance of civilisations. This diplomatic initiative aims at improving dialogue between the West and the Islamic world. The secretary of the UN, Kofi Annan and the former Iranian president Mohammad Jatami both approve of this project.

They continue to follow the UN Security Advice – adopted in Resolution 1373 on September 28 2001. All members were then advised to adopt specific measures to combat terrorism “totally respectful of the rights” of citizens. They also follow the European Security Strategy, passed in Brussels in December 2003. On an international level, their response is considered an example yet still a mysterious alliance of civilisations, while Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International criticise the judges for extending by two years “almost automatically” the detention without trial of those accused of terrorism. Nevertheless Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international criticize the alliance because it extends ‘almost automatically’ imprisonment without trial for terrorist suspects.