Overview: Spain continues to respond effectively to the global terrorist threat in border and transportation security, counterterrorism financing, countering violent extremism, and bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Spain remained on “high” national alert for terrorism throughout 2020, for the sixth year in a row. 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 to violence, both online and in their communities. During the year, Spain passed and implemented a law regarding the collection and analysis of Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data that includes sharing the data with partners, including the United States. Spanish CT cooperation with the United States was excellent.
Spain maintained its contribution to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with about 150 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.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Spain in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: On September 16, Spain passed a law regarding the collection and analysis of API and PNR data that includes a provision to allow sharing those data with partner countries, including the United States. The law went into effect on November 17. Spain’s Center for Intelligence against Terrorism and Organized Crime (CITCO) plans to collect and analyze 100 percent of API and PNR data from commercial carriers. Spanish officials found visits to the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center and the Terrorist Screening Center were particularly helpful in establishing its own screening process.
During the year, the Spanish government continued to implement its National Strategy Against Terrorism. The Ministry of Interior, through CITCO, with contributions from the Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, developed the document to align with the four pillars of Counter-Terrorism Strategies of the EU and the United Nations: Prevent, Protect, Pursue, and Prepare the response.
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, terrorist self-radicalization on the internet, training remotely, operating without clear affiliation, or traveling in support of nonstate terrorist actors. As of December 21, Spanish authorities reported they had undertaken 22 counterterrorist operations and detained 36 suspects for counterterrorism during the year.
Significant law enforcement actions related to CT included the following:
- On January 28, Spanish National Police (SNP) arrested a Moroccan national living in Spain and charged him with the crime of disseminating messaging in support of terrorist groups. Dubbed a “cyber soldier” by the media, the accused was alleged to have identified people who have made critical statements against Islam in social media, as a step toward physically harming them. At the time of his arrest, he had amassed more than 25,000 social media followers.
- On April 27, SNP arrested three individuals, including a former rapper and ISIS member considered to be one of the most wanted militants in Europe.
- On July 5, SNP arrested three brothers and charged them with the crimes of terrorist recruitment and indoctrination. The government alleged the suspects were radicalized to violence and posed an imminent risk to the safety of the citizenry.
- On July 14, as part of “Operation Alexandria,” Catalan regional police arrested two Algerian nationals and charged them with the crime of membership in and active collaboration with a terrorist organization, as well as with terrorist training, radicalization, and preparing for a terrorist attack. The two allegedly sought to stage an attack in the city of Barcelona.
- On September 30 the Civil Guard arrested an Algerian national and charged him with supporting the terrorist activities of ISIS through social media.
- On October 14, SNP arrested two individuals and charged them with belonging to a terrorist network and luring vulnerable women into polygamous marriages.
- On December 15, SNP arrested a Spanish citizen and charged him with the crimes of “radicalization” and glorifying terrorism. In social media postings, the man claimed he sought to become “the best Da’esh sniper.”
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Spain is a member of 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, and the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). The country 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 CIFG.
Significant law enforcement actions related to CT financing included the following:
- On April 27, Spanish courts convicted a Bangladeshi national living in Spain to seven years of prison for his role in facilitating ISIS financing.
- On November 24, SNP arrested a Syrian and a Moroccan national and charged them with financing terrorism. The arrested individuals are alleged to have collected money from ISIS sympathizers and transmitted it to ISIS in Syria and other conflict zones using money servicing businesses.
Countering Violent Extremism: Spain continued implementation of its national CVE plan, developed in 2015, adjusted annually, and led by CITCO. The plan 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. The Spanish cities of Fuenlabrada and Málaga are both members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Spain is a founding member of the GCTF and supports CT initiatives in the United Nations, the Council of Europe, NATO, and the OSCE. The country maintained forces throughout 2020 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.