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Cablegate: Spain: An Active Front in the War On Terror

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 08 MADRID 003260



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2015

REF: A. A) STATE 144222
C. C) MADRID 1349
D. D) MADRID 2223
E. E) MADRID 1809
F. F) MADRID 2082
G. G) MADRID 2537
H. H) MADRID 0645
I. I) 2004 MADRID 1142

Classified By: Polcouns Kathy Fitzpatrick; reason 1.5 (B) and (D).

1. (C) Summary. Spain is both a significant target of
Islamic terrorist groups and a major logistical hub for
Islamic extremist groups operating across the globe. The
March 11, 2004 train bombings made Madrid the site of the
worst terrorist attack in the history of the EU and triggered
the second major crackdown in three years against Spain-based
Islamic terrorist groups. Historically, Spain-based
extremists have tended to be older (30-40 years),
first-generation immigrants with a history of militant
activity in their home countries. The first Islamists did
not establish themselves in Spain until the late 1980s and
early 1990s, coming mainly from Syria and Algeria. The
influx of large numbers of North African immigrants is
changing the profile of Spain-based Islamic extremists,
creating a large pool of young, alienated men available for

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2. (C) Extremist groups active in Spain tend to be
decentralized, collaborating on an ad hoc basis and united
more by friendships, family ties, and loyalty to the global
jihadist cause than by membership in any given terrorist
organization. While Spain-based groups at first focused on
organizing themselves and providing logistical support to
extremists in other countries, they became increasingly
aggressive after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent
GOS crackdown on Islamist terrorist cells in Spain. Spain's
withdrawal of troops from Iraq does not appear to have
reduced the desire of extremists to strike at Spanish targets
and Spanish authorities, long focused on Basque terrorism,
have shifted gears to deal with the growing threat posed by
Islamic extremists. Police have disrupted multiple terrorist
networks over the last year, including a group that funneled
suicide bombers from Spain to Iraq, and are currently holding
approximately 130 suspects in connection with Islamic
terrorist activities. In July, the GOS concluded a four-year
investigation and trial of 24 members of a local al-Qa'ida
cell; the Court is expected to render a decision September
20. There are at least 300 suspected Islamist terrorists or
logistical operatives in Spain and the Ministry of Interior's
senior terrorism adviser believes there may be as many as
1,000. Spain-based terrorists are believed to target local
USG interests; for example, one of the Madrid train bombers
was spotted conducting surveillance of the Embassy building
one year prior to the train attacks. The rapid growth of the
Moroccan immigrant community, combined with worrisome trends
among Spain-based extremist groups, suggest that Spain is
likely to remain an active front in the war on terror for
many years to come. End Summary.


3. (C) There are an estimated 600,000-800,000 Muslims in
Spain, and possibly up to one million, the majority of them
recent immigrants from Morocco. The recent upsurge in
illegal immigration makes a more accurate figure difficult to
establish. Not surprisingly, the growth of Spain's Islamic
population has been especially robust in its North African
enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, where a GOS report forecast
that Muslims would become a majority within the next several
years (and warned that only 40 percent of residents
considered themselves "pro-Spanish.") Prior to the arrival
of large numbers of North African immigrants in the late
1990s, Spain's Muslim population was comprised of immigrants
from Pakistan and the Middle East, as well as a growing
number of Spanish-born converts to Islam. Spanish converts,
numbering some 20,000, tend to gather and to worship at their
own institutions. Converts are well represented in Spain's
leading Islamic institutions including the Islamic Commision
of Spain (CIE), which serves as the official interface
between the Islamic community and the Spanish government.
The CIE includes major organizations such as the Islamic
Federation of Spain and the Union of Islamic Communities in
Spain. Over 240 mosques and 64 religious communities are
officially registered with the CIE; approximately 160 mosques
in Spain do not belong to the CIE. Immigrants rights
organization "ATIME" is not a religious group, but most of
its members are Moroccan Muslims. ATIME recently angered CIE
leaders by proposing the creation of a new Islamic council to
incorporate the views of more recent arrivals in Spain and
establish controls to monitor against the teaching of
extremist ideologies by imams (implying that the CIE does not
adequately represent the views of the growing Moroccan
community or police its own members). Observers believe that
no more than 15 percent of Spanish Muslims regularly attend
religious services, though many likely attend services at
informal houses of worship, known as "oratorios."

4. (S) Until now, the broader Muslim community in Spain has
been of little importance to the activities of local
extremist groups. During the 1990s, the vast majority of
Spain-based Islamist radicals were recent immigrants with a
history of militant activity in their home countries. Very
few were second-generation immigrants or Spanish converts to
Islam. Islamic extremists coalesced in Spanish mosques and
continue to use them to distribute propaganda and scout for
new recruits, but they have had only limited success in using
mosques to tap into the broader Muslim community.
Authorities believe Islamist radicals prefer informal
religious instruction groups as a way to attract new members
and maintain group cohesion rather than working in mosques
where they are vulnerable to surveillance by police and other
mosque members.

5. (S) Spain's largest mosque is co-located with the Islamic
Cultural Center in Madrid and is popularly known as the "M-30
Mosque" because of its proximity to the M-30 highway, a
principal artery through Madrid. The M-30 Mosque is funded
by the Government of Saudi Arabia. Though the imams at the
M-30 Mosque are considered moderate by Spanish authorities,
suspected extremists are known to attend services there.
Prosecutors are investigating the former director of M-30
Mosque for his alleged role in transferring funds to a
suspicious NGO; the USG is assisting with this investigation.
Separately, three imams from the Catalan region were the key
figures in a network that facilitated the movement of
jihadists from Spain to Iraq to undertake terrorist acts
against Coalition and Iraqi Government targets. Their
mosques served as recruitment and indoctrination centers for
terrorist volunteers. This network was dismantled by police
in June, 2005. In addition to recruiting through mosques,
Islamist radicals distribute propaganda at Koranic schools,
halal butcher shops, and Islamic centers.

6. (C) Islamic extremists are not connected to any political
organization in Spain. There are no Islamist (or even
Islamic) political parties that could be used as a cover for
jihadist activities. This may begin to change as the
burgeoning population of North African immigrants, especially
Moroccans, begins to establish its own institutions in Spain.
There are no significant Spain-based Islamic extremist
publications, though many Spanish extremists have connections
to publications elsewhere in Europe, such as London.


7. (C) Though Spain was the site of several Islamic terrorist
attacks during the 1980s, including a 1985 bombing by Islamic
Jihad near Torrejon Air Base outside of Madrid that killed 18
and wounded 82, there are few indications of extremist groups
operating from Spain prior to the mid 1990s. The first
Islamic terrorist organizations were formed by Syrian members
of the Muslim Brotherhood who had fled repression by the Asad
regime and settled in Spain in the late 1980s. Police
believe Palestinian radical Anwar Adnan Mohamed Salah, AKA
"Chej Salah," and Syrian al-Qa'ida member and propagandist
Mustafa Setmarian, AKA "Abu Mus'ab al-Suri," played a
critical role in organizing Syrian exiles in Spain to support
the international jihadist movement. In 1994, Setmarian
moved to London to work with the Algerian Armed Islamic Group
(GIA) publication "al-Ansar" and Salah went to Pakistan to
work with al-Qa'ida leader Abu Zubaydah in funneling recruits
to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. From 1995 until
his 2001 arrest, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas led the Syrian
group in Spain, during which period this cell expanded its
activities and aided the development of other Islamist
extremist groups. Yarkas and many of the other Syrian
extremists were relatively educated, prosperous, and
projected the appearance of being well established in Spain.
They reportedly raised terrorism funds by working with
Moroccan criminals engaged in fraud, robbery, and theft of
mobile phones.

8. (C) As Syrian extremists were becoming more organized to
lend support to international jihadist movements, Algerian
GIA members began arriving in Spain in significant numbers,
fleeing capture by the Algerian authorities. GIA members
settled in eastern Spain, mostly near Alicante and Valencia,
which have ferry connections to Algerian ports. Many GIA
members in Spain acted in a support capacity for GIA fighters
in Algeria, though some moved on to work for international
jihadist causes. The Salafist Group for Call and Combat
(GSPC), which eclipsed the GIA in Spain as elsewhere, was
detected by 2001 and in June of that year Spanish police
arrested GSPC member Mohamed Benshakria, who had fled Germany
to avoid arrest in connection with the "Meliani cell" that
had planned terrorist attacks in Strasbourg.

9. (C) South Asian extremists also arrived in Spain, with
most settling in the large Pakistani communities in
Barcelona, Bibao, Santander, and Logrono. Pakistani Islamist
radicals appear to play a mainly logistical role,
particularly in providing false documents and in transferring
funds. Spanish authorities are concerned that extremist
elements may have insinuated themselves into Pakistani
communities in the Catalan and La Rioja regions in order to
provide support and raise funds for militant
Pakistani/Kashmiri organizations such as Lashkar-i-Taiba,
Harakat-ul Mujahideen, Jaish-e Mohammad, Lashkar-e Jangvi,
and Jihad-e-Islami al-Alami. Recent reports indicate that
Dubai is a key financial hub for Spain-based Pakistani hawala
organizations, including those hawalas with links to crime
and/or terrorism. Police arrested 10 Pakistani nationals on
fraud charges in Barcelona in September 2004 and subsequently
discovered indications that the group had apparently funneled
money to senior al-Qa'ida figures in Pakistan and had made
suspicious videos of Barcelona landmarks. The group remains
in detention.


10. (C) The most important recent development in the local
Islamic extremist community has been the influx of Moroccan
radicals. They arrived in the 1990s along with tens of
thousands of Moroccan economic migrants, who have become by
far the largest Muslim immigrant community in Spain (500,000
Moroccans compared to approximately 40,000 Algerians, the
next-largest group). While some of the more important
Moroccan extremists matched their Syrian and Algerian
counterparts in terms of first-hand experience operating
against their government, many low-level supporters were only
recruited after their arrival in Spain. Moroccan extremists
tend to be less well off and most are involved in criminal
activity, such as drug trafficking (primarily hashish) and/or
fraud. Since the September 11 attacks in the U.S., the
Casablanca bombings in Morocco, the interventions in
Afghanistan and Iraq, and the dismantlement of the Barakat
Yarkas network, Moroccan extremists appear to have moved to
the forefront of the jihadist community in Spain, at least in
numerical terms. The large and growing Moroccan community
provides Islamic extremist recruiters in Spain with an ample
supply of poor, alienated young men and access to funds from
drug trafficking and other illegal activities.


11. (S) The extremist community in Spain is decentralized,
with few national or institutional barriers and frequent ad
hoc collaboration among radicals from different
organizations. Few local organizations emphasize themselves
as a unit and organization names appear to be unimportant.
However, many extremists in Spain are affiliated to some
degree with organized jihadist groups in other countries. In
total, police believe there are at least 300 Islamic radicals
active in Spain and Ministry of Interior Senior Adviser on
Terrorism Professor Fernando Reinares estimates there may be
as many as 1,000 such extremists. Islamic terrorist
organizations with a presence in Spain include:

-- al-Qa'ida: Barakat Yarkas and other members of the Syrian
group had direct links to al-Qa'ida. Barakat Yarkas is
charged with murder for allegedly organizing Mohamed Atta's
crucial meeting with Ramzi Binalshibh during Atta's final
preparations for the September 11 attacks. A decision is
expected in his case on September 20. Other extremist
organizations in Spain draw inspiration from al-Qa'ida, but
there is no clear indication that they act under instruction
from the leadership of the organization.

-- Moroccan Islamic Combat Group (GICM): Police have drawn
connections between terrorists involved in the Madrid train
bombings and the GICM figures that carried out the 2003
Casablanca attacks, but it appears that the Madrid bombings
were organized and executed at the local level rather than
under instruction from the GICM leadership. Senior GICM
figure Hassan al-Haski was arrested in the Canary Islands in
December 2004 for his alleged role in the March 11 train

-- Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC): According to
Spanish authorities, GSPC members in Spain appear to act with
a high degree of autonomy from their leadership in Algeria.
Many suspected GSPC members seem to be acting in support of
local and global jihadist causes rather than being dedicated
to the conflict in Algeria.

-- Armed Islamic Group (GIA): GIA was an important force
during the formative period of Islamist extremist groups in
Spain in the early 1990s, but no longer maintains a
significant presence in the country, since many GIA members
have been arrested, abandoned the GIA to join the GSPC, or
joined other local Islamist causes. March 11 train bombing
suspect Allekema Lamari served five years in a Spanish prison
on charges of being a GIA member.

-- Ansar-al-Islam: Ansar-al-Islam does not have a formal
presence in Spain, but a Spain-based organization affiliated
with the group was responsible for recruiting suicide bombers
to attack coalition forces in Iraq. Spanish authorities
dismantled the cell in June, 2005, jailing eight and holding
seven for deportation proceedings. Three of those detained
were imams at Barcelona-area mosques. The cell reportedly
succeeded in sending Mohamed Afalah, an extremist involved in
the Madrid train bombings, to Iraq where he may have carried
out a suicide attack against Iraqi government or Coalition
forces in May, 2005.

-- Salafiya Jihadiya: Formed in the early 1990s by Moroccan
veterans of the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan, Salafiya
Jihadiya supported or inspired many Moroccan jihadists,
including several that worked with the organization in
Morocco and later moved to Spain.

-- Hizballah: Hizballah (which is not officially recognized
as a terrorist organization by EU countries but is monitored
by the Spanish security services) is believed to have a small
presence in Spain in a fund-raising and logistical capacity.
Spanish officials judge the risk of a Hizballah attack in
Spain to be very low.


12. (C) Nearly all known or suspected Islamic extremists in
Spain are first-generation immigrants, most of whom have a
history of religious fanaticism in their home countries or a
close personal connection to a Muslim extremist. They are
typically older than extremists in other countries, with the
majority aged 30-40 and very few below the age of 25. As
noted above, many of the first Islamists to take up
activities in Spain had a good education and many had good
jobs and were considered well integrated into Spanish
society. That remains true for many among the second wave of
Spain-based extremists, including Moroccans involved in the
March 11 attacks. However, among North Africans suspected of
involvement in terrorist activity there also many who are
poor or unemployed and many have criminal records for drug
trafficking, robbery, or fraud. The growing pool of
disaffected young North Africans is likely to become the
major recruiting pool for extremist organizers over the
coming years.


13. (C) Spain-based Islamist extremists are strongly
influenced by the "Takfir Wal Hijra" doctrine, which
justifies the use of illegal proceeds to fund jihadist
operations and accepts non-Muslim practices such as drinking
alcohol and drug trafficking as a cover for extremist
activities. Several of the Madrid train bombers reportedly
followed this doctrine, engaging in drug trafficking and
other criminal activity to finance the March 11, 2004
attacks. At an ideological level, the cells that carried out
the train bombings and other groups seem driven by general
support for the global jihadist cause and by their Salafist
religious beliefs rather than focused on a particular theater
of that struggle.

14. (C) Broad acceptance of these operational and
ideological doctrines among Spain-based extremists promotes a
high degree of cross-fertilization and ad hoc cooperation,
with most organizational, ethnic, and regional differences
subordinated to greater ideological objectives. Family
relationships and friendships are key to recruitment efforts.
Many senior extremist figures are also bound by shared
experience in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan or
elsewhere, or by shared association with highly-regarded
jihadist veterans. Organization names appear unimportant,
with shifting groups of Islamic extremist collaborators
adopting different names for different projects. For
example, members of Barakat Yarkas' Syrian network called
themselves the "Islamic Alliance" and then "Soldiers of
Allah," but never displayed much interest in a particular

15. (S) The decentralization of Spanish Islamic extremists
was clearly seen in the network that carried out the Madrid
train bombings. The group included mainly Moroccans, but
also Algerians, Egyptians, Tunisians and other nationalities
from a variety of extremist organizations. Police believe
that at least three distinct groups came together to carry
out the attacks. One group, based in the Madrid district of
Lavapies, was led by Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan national
resident in Spain and an associate of jailed al-Qa'ida figure
Barakat Yarkas. A second group was directed by Moroccan
national Jamal Ahmidan (AKA "El Chino") from Madrid's
Villaverde district. The third group was led by Sarhane Ben
Abdelmajid Fakhet (AKA Sarhane "The Tunisian") and contained
members of various nationalities. Other actors included
Barakat Yarkas associate Amer Azizi, who remains at large and
is believed to have established the link between the Serhane
and Zougam cells. The various conspirators were brought
together by common associations with Islamic extremist
organizers, intermarriage among their families, and worship
at centers such as Madrid's Villaverde Mosque. The mix of
associations has slowed the progress of the investigation
into the train bombings. Despite having accumulated a mass
of information regarding planning for the bombings, police
remain unable to pinpoint precisely who led the attacks. It
appears likely that there was no single leader, but a
consortium of central actors who organized the plot and
sought specialized assistance as required (for example, for
manufacturing the bombs used in the attacks).


16. (S) The March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings were
financed with the proceeds from drug sales carried out by
Jamal Ahmidan (El Chino) and others. Investigators found
substantial quantities of drug money during searches of the
properties of March 11 plotters and ample evidence linking
low-level drug dealers to the cell that planned and executed
the train bombings. The subsequent arrest of a separate
extremist cell comprised primarily of Moroccans imprisoned on
drug charges, as well as the substantial criminal records of
North African immigrants detained in connection with yet
another network that sent suicide bombers to Iraq, suggest
that drug trafficking has become the primary financing
vehicle for Spain-based jihadists. This trend substantially
expands the pool of persons with possible involvement in
support of Islamic extremist activities and diminishes the
capacity of Spain's financial intelligence unit to use the
formal banking system to track the activities of suspected
jihadists. Mission elements are aware of this danger and
work with police to track drug arrests of North African
suspects. In just the period between April 1 and July 31 of
2005, Spanish police reported 246 arrests of Moroccan
nationals on drug charges, mostly hashish trafficking. Once
in the Spanish prison system, these detainees become a
priority target for Islamic extremist recruiters. With Spain
as the major portal for cocaine and hashish bound for the
Western European market, drug trafficking will likely remain
a lucrative source of funds (and recruits) over the long term
for terrorist groups operating in the country and/or
supporting jihadist causes overseas.


17. (S) Spain-based Islamic terrorist groups target U.S.
interests in the country, at least for surveillance purposes.
The sizable extremist community and insular nature of large
segments of the Muslim immigrant population make it difficult
to monitor against such threats and/or detect them in the
planning stages, but specific threats have been identified in
recent years. Approximately one year before the 2004 Madrid
train bombings, the RSO Surveillance Detection Team
photographed an unidentified subject conducting surveillance
of the Embassy (REF I). During the course of the train
bombing investigation, RSO discovered that the subject
photographed by the detection team was Said Berraj, a key
planner of the train bombings who escaped the Spanish police
sweep and remains at large. Separately, RSO blocked an
attempt by Al-Jazeera journalist Taysir Alouny, who is on
trial for alleged membership in the Barakat Yarkas al-Qa'ida
cell, to enter the November 2004 Embassy election night party
at a Madrid hotel, ostensibly to cover the event as a
journalist. Alouny was out on bail at the time, but was
subsequently re-arrested by Spanish authorities. Mission
personnel believe that the U.S. Embassy likely is a prime
target for Spain-based Islamic terrorists.


18. (C) Despite Spain's long experience with radical Basque
terrorism and years of monitoring and disrupting Islamic
radical organizations, the March 11, 2004 Madrid train
attacks came as a shock to Spanish security officials. The
GOS has since tripled the number of officials charged with
tracking Islamic extremist activity and ramped up police
operations aimed at disrupting the operations of suspected
terrorist cells. Successes in 2004/2005 include:

-- "Operation NOVA," October 2004 - Police dismantled a
terrorist ring that was planning to purchase explosives in
order to attack Spain's High Court with a 500 kilogram bomb
(specifically to kill anti-terrorism magistrates) and to bomb
other Madrid landmarks. The group consisted mainly of
Moroccans recruited in Spanish prisons by Algerian national
Abderrahmane Tahiri (better known as "Mohamed Achraf").

-- Continuing arrests related to the Madrid train bombings,
such as the December 2004 detention of GICM figure Hassan el
Haski and the June 2005 detention of five Moroccan nationals
linked to train bombing conspirator Mohamed Afalah.

-- "Operation Tigris," June 2005 - The National Police
dismantled a jihadist facilitator network organized to funnel
suicide bombers from Spain to Iraq to undertake actions
against Coalition and Iraqi Government targets. Eight of the
39 suspects detained during the operation were remanded to
prison on terrorism charges, while seven others were
processed for deportation to their countries of origin.

-- Trial of 24 members of the Barakat Yarkas al-Qa'ida cell,
Spring 2005. A verdict is expected September 20. Spanish
media closely followed the three-month trial and GOS
officials have cited the importance of the prosecution of so
many suspected terrorists. Trial observers note that while
prosecutors provided ample evidence that several of the cell
members had participated in terrorist training activity, they
did not clearly establish a link between the Barakat Yarkas
cell and the 9/11 attacks, as alleged in the indictment.

19. (C) The GOS has worked closely with the USG in improving
its ability to identify, arrest, and prosecute suspected
Islamic extremists. Counterterrorism cooperation is one of
the cornerstones of the bilateral relationship. Attorney
General Gonzales and Justice Minister Aguilar announced the
formation of a Counter Terrorism Experts Working Group in
March 2005 comprised of USG and GOS security officials and
prosecutors. The group met in Madrid in May and will meet in
Washington in late October. Spain's highly-competent
financial intelligence unit, SEPLAC, works very well with the
USG at the bilateral and multilateral level.


20. (S) There are several continuing problems that undermine
Spain's counterterrorism capabilities. The most troublesome
impediment is strong inter-service rivalry, which blocks the
free flow of information among the Civil Guard, the National
Police (SNP), and the National Center for Intelligence (CNI),
each of which plays a counterterrorism role. By all
accounts, a national counterterrorism center created in 2004
to improve coordination among the services has thus far
failed to achieve its purpose. As a result, there does not
appear to be a consolidated terrorist lookout list shared
among the services. A related problem is the lack of an
electronic namecheck system for customs/immigration officials
to help them identify out persons of interest. Separately,
recent press reports indicate internal frustration with the
head of the SNP's intelligence branch, Telesforo Rubio, whose
leadership style has allegedly led key figures in the SNP
counterterrorism unit to retire or transfer to other units.

21. (C) There are also structural differences between the
U.S. and Spanish legal systems that sometimes interfere with
information sharing, though both sides continue working to
minimize disruption to police investigations. In particular,
the central role of investigating magistrates, such as
Baltasar Garzon and Juan del Olmo, in the Spanish system and
the lack of protections for intelligence information have
complicated the USG's ability to share relevant information
with Spanish authorities. For their part, Spanish
magistrates have sometimes been loathe to share information
controlled under strict judicial secrecy rules.


22. (C) The combination of an established and growing pool of
extremist sympathizers and Spain's continued identification
with "the West" on the part of those extremists makes it very
likely that Spain will be the target of future terrorist
attacks. The head of the MFA's Bureau of Analysis, Fidel
Sendagorta, expressed concern in a recent article that such
attacks would increase public rejection of North African
immigrants and stir nativist sentiment, which could in turn
alienate young Moroccan immigrants and make them easy targets
for terrorist recruiters. Sendagorta pointed to the problems
faced by the UK, France, and the Netherlands with Islamic
radicalism in their large Muslim immigrant communities as
forerunners of the problems Spain will face over the next ten
to twenty years. Unfortunately, it appears that Spain will
remain an active front in the War on Terror for some time to

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