Country Report on Terrorism 2018 - Chapter 1 - Spain

Overview: Spain’s terrorism alert level remained at four (high) on a five-point scale throughout 2018. Spanish authorities continued to arrest individuals suspected of planning terror attacks; facilitating terrorist financing; and engaging in ISIS- and al-Qai’da-related recruitment and radicalization, both online and in their communities. Spanish counterterrorism cooperation with the United States was excellent. Spain maintained its contribution to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with roughly 500 personnel deployed to Iraq throughout the year for military and police training missions. Spain continued to exercise leadership in regional and global counterterrorism fora, including the GCTF and the 5+5 Defense Initiative. In a significant step forward for counterterrorism information sharing, the Catalonia region’s autonomous police force formally joined the central government’s Intelligence Center for Countering Terrorism and Organized Crime. On May 3, Basque terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) announced its dissolution. ETA observed a unilateral ceasefire beginning in 2011, following a decades-long campaign of violence that claimed more than 800 victims. Spanish officials vowed to continue seeking prosecution for individuals involved in past ETA operations.

Terrorist Incidents: On August 20, a 29-year-old man of Algerian origin brandished a knife in a police station in Cornellàde Llobregat, a town near Barcelona, reportedly shouting “Allahu akbar” before being fatally shot by a police officer. Local authorities described the incident as a terrorist attack because the suspect had reportedly previously accessed ISIS material online. However, a lawyer retained by the assailant’s family denied any terrorist sympathies or affiliation, insisting that his actions reflected a “grave personal crisis” stemming from his recent divorce.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Spain’s criminal code punishes any act of “collaboration with the activities or purposes of a terrorist organization,” including glorification of terrorism on social media, self-radicalization to violence on the internet, training remotely, operating without clear affiliation, or traveling in support of non-state terrorist actors. As of November 2018, Spanish authorities reported that there were 252 individuals detained in Spain on terrorism-related charges.

Significant law enforcement actions related to counterterrorism included:

  • On May 8, the Spanish National Police arrested two terror suspects in Murcia and the Basque Country, and Moroccan authorities arrested three individuals allegedly belonging to the same terrorist cell. The five detainees were in contact with ISIS affiliates in Syria, exchanged pro-ISIS messaging online, attempted to recruit others, and incited attacks against Western targets.
  • On October 23, Spanish National Police arrested two men in Valencia and Alicante for allegedly disseminating “jihadist” propaganda through social networks, “inciting hate and violence” against Westerners, and spreading images of the Syrian armed conflict. The suspects were Syrian nationals aged 55 and 58 with connections to ISIS and al-Qa’ida. One of the suspects allegedly held a high-profile role in the “information structure” of ISIS, distributing ISIS propaganda via instant messaging.
  • On December 3, Spanish National Police arrested a 46-year-old Moroccan national in Valencia for “extremist indoctrination” and “promoting terrorist propaganda.” The suspect allegedly expressed a desire to travel to fight in Syria, had been in contact with al-Nusrah Front, and had been selling narcotics to finance terrorist activities.
  • On April 10, three leaders of a Catalonia-based terrorist cell dismantled in April 2015 received 12-year jail sentences, while seven other individuals associated with the cell received eight-year sentences. The Spanish court determined that the cell was formed “with the sole purpose of carrying out the declared principles of Daesh” and sought to encourage Spaniards to travel to Syria and Iraq. The cell allegedly planned to attack emblematic locations in Barcelona and to kidnap and behead an individual. The cell included Moroccan, Spanish, and Brazilian nationals.
  • On October 2, the Spanish Ministry of Interior carried out a groundbreaking operation to counter radicalization in prisons, identifying 25 ISIS-affiliated inmates across 17 Spanish jails who were working to radicalize and recruit other inmates to terrorism.
  • On December 7, the Council of Ministers approved a proposal for a new law implementing the EU PNR Directive to track suspected terrorists and other travelers of concern.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Spain is a member of the FATF and has observer or cooperating status in the following FATF-style regional bodies: the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force. Spain maintained funding levels for its FIU, the Executive Service for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Monetary Offenses, which is a member of the Egmont Group. Spain is a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. On December 11, Spanish National Police broke up an alleged terrorist financing ring operated by four Syrian nationals incarcerated in Spanish prisons, who used their illicit proceeds from Mediterranean drug trafficking and people smuggling to fund terrorist activities in Syria.

For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism: Spain continued implementation of its national CVE plan, developed in 2015 and led by the Intelligence Center for Countering Terrorism and Organized Crime. It seeks to build partnerships at the local level between civil society leaders from vulnerable communities and representatives of law enforcement and other public services. On October 25, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced that Spain would revise the plan, which “needs an important revamp.”

The Spanish cities of Fuenlabrada and Malaga are both members of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: Spain is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the GCTF, and supports counterterrorism initiatives in the UN, the Council of Europe, NATO, and the OSCE. Spain maintained forces in EU training missions in Mali and Somalia. Spanish officials participated in meetings of the Law Enforcement Coordination Group on disrupting Hizballah’s activities. Spain continues to support the 5+5 Defense Initiative bringing together European (France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain) and North African (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) countries to build capacity on counterterrorism, maritime and aviation security, and disaster management. Spain cooperated with regional partners on counterterrorism investigations and arrests. For example, on May 17 Spanish National Police arrested a 27-year-old Moroccan national with a European arrest warrant issued by Germany, and on May 29, authorities in the Basque Country arrested a 21-year-old French escaped criminal flagged on a French watch list for “radicalization.”