The Jihad against Spain: Origin, Evolution and Future of the Islamist Threat

por GEES, 1 de febrero de 2018

Preface by Ignacio Cosidó

Europe has become one of the main strategic objectives of jihadist terrorism. The brutal attacks in Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin, or Barcelona, ??part of a long list of minor attacks, clearly show the interest of Islamists to hit Europe.

The threat of jihadism in Europe responds to a double reason: The strategic interest of terrorists in our continent and the vulnerability to these attacks shown so far by the European Union. On the one hand, Europe is identified as a sum of democracies opposed by definition to totalitarianism on which the criminal dreams of building a universal caliphate rest. To the extent that several European countries are also involved in the fight against Islamist forces, from Syria to Afghanistan and the Sahel, Europe as a whole has become an enemy to beat. On the other hand, together with the security deficits that the European Union has demonstrated, the presence in Europe of a large Muslim community in clear expansion in our territory in which radicalization networks have taken root in several countries, turn the Old Continent into a field conducive to battle.

We are also facing a threat not only in the long term, but it also seems set to increase in the near future. The successive defeats of the self-styled Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq have paradoxically made Europe more valuable strategically and have freed resources to attack targets in our territory. In this sense, it is especially disturbing the specter of the possible return of foreign terrorists who left European territory to fight in that theater and who can now try to return to Europe with combat experience and even greater fanaticism. Their capacity for action, but, above all, influence and recruitment among young Muslims living in Europe, must be closely monitored and pursued.

Terrorism will therefore remain the main threat to security in Europe in the coming decades. The report that you have in your hands will undoubtedly contribute to a better understanding of the nature of this threat, its real dimension, and also some necessary reforms to tackle it more effectively.

It is important to have a clear perception of the threat to know what we are really facing. We Europeans have avoided for a long time any term that links this terrorism with Islamism or jihadism. We preferred to talk about international terrorism or simply about a terrorist threat.This GEES report specifically stresses the ideological-political dimension of this terrorism because it is an essential factor for developing a strategy to combat it.


Second, it highlights the complexity and multiple dimensions of this threat. For many years we focused our objective on defeating al-Qaeda. In recent years we have focused on defeating the Islamic State. In reality, all these organizations are merely instrumental in a fundamental movement that adopts multiple forms but maintains a unity of purpose: The establishment of a totalitarian regime based on a radical vision of Islam. Thus, we see large-scale attacks planned and executed by different terrorist organizations clustered around this movement. Actions are also carried out by individuals or small local groups after orders of those central structures. However, there are also cases of self-radicalization and these people act inspired by jihad, but without any direct relationship with these organizations. It is therefore necessary to give a comprehensive response to fight against jihadist terrorism in all its multiple dimensions.


The report also offers some measures necessary to counter this threat. It is necessary to strengthen judicial and police cooperation mechanisms in Europe, which have sometimes shown deficiencies. It is also essential to strengthen the external borders of the European Union to prevent people, or weapons, from entering a territory that has abolished internal borders. Above all, it is necessary to strengthen the resistance of our societies to the challenges of terror in order to prevent killers from achieving the ultimate goal of frightening our citizens in order to impose their objectives. We need a stronger Europe, stronger in the defense of its principles, assertive, and more willing to fight and win this battle.


The report covers Spain’s situation in detailed fashion. The extensive historical analysis contained in these pages shows that the roots of jihadist terrorism in Spain are deeper than expected and that its first efforts go back to the 1980s in a still very young Spanish democracy. Later, our country was used as a logistic base for different Islamist terrorist movements, especially those linked to Algeria in the 1990s.


Nonetheless, there have also been multiple attacks and attempts neutralized by Spanish Security Forces for decades that are carefully described in these pages. The analysis of the March 11 attacks in Madrid—the deadliest attack of jihadist terrorism on European soil to date—is particularly interesting. The data provided in this report clearly points to a connection between these attacks with al-Qaeda and its political purpose.


From the March 11 attacks in 2004 to the Barcelona attacks in 2017, there is a long period in which the Spanish anti-terrorist strategy is particularly fruitful. Spain, that had fought for almost four decades until the defeat of the terrorist group ETA, had developed capabilities in the fight against terrorism that were lacking in other European countries not hit by terror. I think it is only fair to acknowledge here the efforts and excellence shown by the General Police Information Office of the National Police, the Information Headquarters of the Civil Guard and the National Intelligence Center, as well as the efficiency displayed by judges and prosecutors of the National Court in this fight.


Three are the fundamental pillars that have generated the multiple successes of our fight against jihadist terrorism during these years. In the first place, the reorganization of the operational capabilities used against ETA to fight jihadist terrorism, which includes not only the transfer of human resources but also the development of new methods and procedures along with important technological innovation. On the other hand, the reforms of the Criminal Code in 2010 and 2015 have allowed preemptive capabilities for our Security Forces to make preventive arrests and combat the growing activism of terrorists on the Internet. The excellent work of the Security Forces and the judicial rigor of judges and prosecutors have allowed preventive detention and subsequent prison sentences in more than 90 percent of the cases.

A second axis has been a cohesive intelligence community working in a coordinated manner. Cooperation between intelligence and police services is not always easy in the fight against terrorism. In Spain’s case, I am aware that this cooperation between the CNI and the Security Forces has been effective and that the adequate coordination between the Civil Guard and the National Police has even resulted in some joint operations. The coordination with some autonomous police corps, as in the case of Catalonia, has been more difficult and remains as a pending issue for the future. The last attack in Barcelona revealed deficiencies in the coordination mechanisms. In any case, this question of cooperation between national police corps and other regional or local police is in fact an open question in other European countries.


Lastly, we must highlight Spain’s effective international collaboration efforts in the fight against terrorism. For many years Spain has been one of the Community’s partners promoting more European cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The arrest and delivery warrants or the joint investigation teams were Spanish initiatives that, especially after the 9/11 attacks, would become a reality. That EUROPOL’s current director of the Center against Terrorism of is a colonel of the Spanish Civil Guard is another example of the Spanish Security Forces expertise in this field. Now that the terrorist threat affects all European countries; there is a more multilateral leadership to promote new measures such as the integration of police information systems, the PNR, or the entry and exit log to our territory. Nonetheless, Spain must remain at the forefront of that leadership role.


Beyond the common security space that the European Union represents, our country has kept strengthened cooperation ties with other countries, from the United States to Mediterranean countries. It is necessary to highlight the excellent level of cooperation with the Kingdom of Morocco. The constant exchange of operational information and coordination has reached levels comparable to those with European Union countries. This cooperation has been vital to our effectiveness in the fight against jihadism. This strategic cooperation link between Morocco and Spain in the fight against terrorism may well be defined as a model of success for the entire Mediterranean region.


Despite our success over the years, the Barcelona attacks remind us that the jihadist threat to Spain is particularly intense at this moment. On the one hand, the experience of other countries shows us that second generations of immigrants are more prone to radicalization than the first ones. On the other hand, mentions of Spain in Islamist propaganda have grown significantly in recent months, including references to the “reconquest” of al-Andalus as part of the Caliphate they aspire to rebuild.


Despite all this, Spaniards are quite unaware of how serious the terrorist threat is. Even after the last attack on Las Ramblas, just over 15 percent of respondents showed concern for jihadist terrorism, according to the latest CIS Barometer of September 2017. It is also necessary to strengthen the defense of our democratic values ??in the face of terror and our determination to never give in to terrorists’ blackmailing efforts. This report will undoubtedly contribute to all that, modestly but with rigor and courage, explaining to anyone who wants to read it the threat we face, how to fight it, and overcome it.


Terrorism is undoubtedly the main threat to the security of Spain and Europe. The media, social, political, and economic impact of each attack actually makes it a strategic threat for the entire European Union. Defending the life, liberty, and security of citizens is the first obligation of any democratic government. If the European Union fails in this task due to the fragility of its borders, the weakness of its police and judicial cooperation mechanisms, or its lack of determination to fight terror, the very survival of the Union will be seriously compromised. And what is more consequential, the freedom that defines us as a civilization would be seriously threatened.

Ignacio Cosidó

Former Director of the National Police and Senator of the Kingdom of Spain


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