Overview: Spain remained on “high” national alert for terrorism throughout 2019 for the fifth year in a row, and Spanish authorities continued to arrest individuals suspected of planning terror attacks; facilitating terrorist financing; and engaging in ISIS- and al-Qa’ida-related recruitment and radicalization, both online and in their communities. Spanish CT cooperation with the United States was excellent. Spain maintained its contribution to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with up to 550 personnel deployed to Iraq throughout the year in military and police training missions. Spain continued to exercise leadership in regional and global CT fora, including the GCTF and the 5+5 Defense Initiative.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no known terrorist incidents reported in Spain during the year.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Spanish government published its first National Strategy Against Terrorism to unify and update its strategy to prevent, combat, and counteract terrorist threats, replacing the 2012 Comprehensive Strategy Against International Terrorism and Radicalization. The Ministry of Interior, through the Center for Intelligence against Terrorism and Organized Crime (CITCO), with contributions from the Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, developed the document to align with the Counter-Terrorism Strategies of the EU and the UN with four pillars: Prevent, Protect, Pursue, and Prepare the response. The strategy is in force for four years.
The Spanish criminal code punishes any act of “collaboration with the activities or purposes of a terrorist organization,” including promotion of terrorism on social media, self-radicalization on the internet, training remotely, operating without clear affiliation, or traveling in support of nonstate terrorist actors. As of November 2019, Spanish authorities reported that police had undertaken 32 cunterterrorist operations and detained 58 suspects for the year. Significant law enforcement actions related to CT included:
- On February 4, the Spanish Ministry of Interior announced the breakup of a terrorist network in Spanish prisons, led by five Moroccan nationals who sought to recruit other prisoners to pledge allegiance to ISIS. The five suspects, ranging in age from 25 to 68, had been serving sentences since 2013 and are believed to have been radicalized in prison. A prison official who allegedly took bribes from the network was also arrested, along with a man and woman in the Madrid suburb of Alcorcón who allegedly provided the network with material support. The suspects threatened and harassed other prisoners for diverging from religious orthodoxy and directly instructed other prisoners to commit acts of terrorism. They claimed to be in contact with ISIS leaders who could facilitate financial compensation to the prisoners’ families in exchange for conducting attacks.
- On September 23, Spanish Civil Guard agents arrested nine individuals for allegedly stockpiling explosive precursors and planning to commit violence on or around the anniversary of the October 1, 2017, illegal Catalan independence referendum, and/or in response to the conviction and sentencing of jailed pro-independence leaders. Authorities eventually charged seven of those arrested with membership in a terrorist organization, manufacture and possession of explosives, and conspiracy to commit mayhem. The investigating court subsequently released several of the accused on bail because they were not primary actors in the conspiracy.
- On October 8, Spanish Police arrested a 23-year-old Spanish citizen of Moroccan origin for alleged membership in ISIS. He was allegedly the coordinator in Spain of Muntasir Media, an unofficial platform for disseminating propaganda supporting ISIS and promoting terrorism. Officials found chemical precursors for explosives at his residence along with instructions for making bombs. He had also assembled lists of possible targets for attack. Authorities charged him with advocating terrorism and making terrorist threats.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Spain is a member of the FATF and has observer or cooperator status in the following FATF-style regional bodies: the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT), and the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). 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 CIFG.
The Spanish government has proposed automatically applying future UNSC terrorism financing sanctions in Spain, rather than awaiting the transposition of the sanctions by the EU. On June 18, the Spanish National Police, in collaboration with Europol, arrested 10 suspects of Syrian origin as part of a large CT financing operation involving 350 agents across Madrid, Toledo, and Valencia. The accused allegedly had links to al-Qa’ida operatives in Syria and were detained for belonging to a criminal organization, collaborating with a terrorist organization, terrorist financing, money laundering, tax fraud, document falsification, and facilitating illegal immigration.
Countering Violent Extremism: Spain continued implementation of its national CVE plan, developed in 2015 and led by CITCO. It identifies potential for terrorist radicalization and recruitment down to census district level using an algorithm based in socioeconomic factors and seeks to build partnerships at the local level between civil society leaders from vulnerable communities and representatives of law enforcement and other public services. While Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska had announced an effort to “revamp” the plan in October 2018, no amended version has yet been issued publicly. According to the plan, Barcelona is considered the highest risk area for jihadist terrorist activity, though police made more terrorism- related arrests near Madrid (23 versus seven in Barcelona) than any other city. The Spanish cities of Fuenlabrada and Malaga are both members of the SCN.
International and Regional Cooperation: Spain is a founding member of the GCTF and supports CT initiatives in the UN, CoE, NATO, and OSCE. Spain maintained forces throughout 2019 in EU training missions in Mali and Somalia. Spain continues to support the 5+5 Defense Initiative bringing together European (France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain) and North African (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia) countries to build capacity on CT, maritime and aviation security, and disaster management. Spain cooperated with regional partners on CT investigations and arrests.