Three months after the Barcelona bombing, vehicle and stabbing attacks of 17th August, the Spanish CNI (National Intelligence Centre) have revealed that mastermind Abdelbaki es Satty was a police informant. Following the attack, which left 16 dead and hundreds injured, Spanish national and regional police have publicly feuded over control of the investigation. The information has come to light due to accusations from the Catalan Mossos, that Madrid tried to conceal their knowledge of the terror Imam.
Abdelbaki es Satty, Imam of Ripoli, died 16th August in an explosion at a chalet in Alcanar, Catalonia. Explosives substances were found, along with 120 gas cylinders. The terror cell was building bombs to attack targets including the Sagrada Familia cathedral, in Barcelona. The subsequent vehiclular and stabbing attacks, while dramatic, were only a back up plan. The surviving jihadis apparently launched them out of concern police may be closing in.
Imam first entered Spain in 2002, and was arrested shortly after in Ceuta, using a forged passport to smuggle in another Moroccan. He was issued a six month suspended sentence, and lived for a time with his cousin Mustafa in Vilanova i la Geltru, just south of Barcelona. He came to the attention of terror police when his phone number was found in the possession of Madrid bombing suspects in 2004. That terror incident killed 192 people and injured another 2,000. It was the worst European terror attack since the Lockerbie plane bombing.
For the next few years, Es Satty was a “disciple of some of the main detainees in the [Operation Jackal arrests] in 2007” . Those suspects included cousin Mustafa, who was released from custody after complaining of torture. The groups were raising funds for the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), linked to Al Qaeda and responsible for the Casablanca attacks in 2003, as well as for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). They were recruiting Spanish and north African muslims to fight for al Qaeda, in Iraq. A photocopy of Abdelbaki Es Satty’s identification papers was found in one terror organisers apartment, and actually lived for a time with another militant. That man, Algerian Belgacem Bellil, attacked the Italian Base in Iraq with a suicide truck, killing 28 people.
Operation Jackal also highlighted growing links between terror networks, and the drug trade. Although escaping prosecution, Abdelbaki Es Satty would go on to provide further evidence of these links. He was arrested on January 1, 2010, trying to enter the Spanish mainland by ferry from Ceuta, in North Africa. His car was found to contain 136kg of hashish resin. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison. During his incarceration, he was known to be a good friend of Rachid Aglif, known as “The Rabbit” who was serving 18 years for involvement in the Madrid bombing attacks. During his time in prison, Es Satty spent nine months in an anti-radicalization program.
Following his release, in 2015, Abdelbaki Es Satty, moved to Ripoll, a town which was looking for an Imam. A relative of two of the attackers said that he “preached jihad and killing infidels often enough to make her uncomfortable, but she didn’t dare speak out at the time”.
Early in 2016, Es Satty moved to Belgium and tried to obtain work as an Imam. His behavior in the city of Vilvoorde, considered a European centre for radicalization, raised concerns with the local police. They contacted the Catalan Mossos force, asking if Es Satty had terror links. In March, 2016, the Catalan Strategic Analysis Unit replied that Abdelbaki Es Satty was not known to them, but his cousin had been investigated in another operation.
Abdelbaki Es Satty left Belgium in mid-March 2016, returning to Ripoll, Spain just before the March 22 triple suicide bombings tore Brussels apart. He resumed work in a new mosque, at an unmarked shopfront in central Ripoll. It is from this location, that he groomed his young accomplices for the terror plot. Relatives and neighbours of the young men, all blame the imam for their radicalization. The boys were, “nice, normal boys, and completely integrated”. The grandfather of two of the young men, however reported that “over the last two years, Younes and Houssein began to radicalise under the influence of this imam.”
Those relatives and neighbors of the attackers may well be asking themselves if they could have done something to prevent the attack. Friends and relatives of the victims have serious questions as well. With the extensive terror links, and connections to investigations, why was Abdelbaki Es Satty permitted to preach hate, and indeed to live, in Spain?
Following his four-year prison term for hashish smuggling, the Spanish government issued an expulsion order in 2014. Es Satty appealed the expulsion, and the Supreme Court issued a decision in March 2015. Under European jurisprudence, a long-term resident alien may only be expelled if he presented a “real threat and sufficiently serious for public order or public safety”. At that time, Es Satty convinced the judge of his “evident work rootedness and efforts to integrate into Spain”, presumably this consisted of his work radicalizing young muslims in Ripoll. Another major factor in his favor was that he hadn’t been convicted of an offence in the last five years. The fact that he had been behind bars for 80% of that time was beside the point. Leaks from within the court reveal that the judicial file for the expulsion makes no mention of his connection to any past terror plots, or even his 2002 people smuggling arrest. If Es Satty was working as a police informant at this time, his terror links must have been known, yet they weren’t mentioned in the evidence brief against him.
In fact, from 2002 when Es Satty was arrested for people smuggling in Ceuta Port, till 2010 when he was arrested for drug smuggling, we know he was connected to radical organized crime. It’s likely that for the whole period, he was smuggling people, guns and drugs between Morroco and Spain. The profits may well have been going to Al Queada’s terror network in the middle east. From 2010 till 2014 he was in jail, and nominated for deradicalization training. In 2015 and 2016, he was radicalizing a community in Catalunya, attempting to make contacts in Belgium, and masterminding what could have become an attack to rival the Madrid bombings of 12 years previous.
Sixteen dead and hundreds injured in the Barcelona attacks was horrific. The toll would have been much higher however, if it had played out as planned. There were many opportunities to stop these terrorists, and failures at every step. The fundamental problem though, is a system of human rights which prioritizes the welfare of terrorists and criminals above that of citizens. Why was the imam allowed to preach jihad in Spanish villages? Why was he not deported in 2014 after spending 12 years dedicated to organized crime and terror sponsorship? Why indeed wasn’t he deported and forbidden entry to the EU in 2002 when he was arrested for people smuggling? The fundamental role of a national government is to maintain the sovereignty of a nation and protect its citizens. It’s time to remind them of this role.