Police in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia arrested 18 members of a jihadi cell plotting an attack in Barcelona — and then released all but three.
The arrests have drawn renewed attention to the continuing problem of radical Islam in Catalonia, which has one of the largest per capita Muslim populations in Europe.
The cell — comprised of individuals from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Morocco — was broken up on January 15, when more than a hundred police officers raided five properties in Barcelona and the Catalan town of Igualada.
The arrests were part of a year-long counter-terrorism investigation called “Operation Alexandra,” launched in May 2017 after police received a tip that local jihadis were preparing an attack.
Catalan police, known as the Mossos d’Esquadra, said that the cell included five ringleaders who were in an “advanced process of radicalization with the aim to attack.” The cell adhered to the “doctrinal principles” of the Islamic State and were “significant consumers” of jihadi propaganda.
The newspaper El Mundo reported that the cell was divided into two parts: The first part consisted of a dozen members dedicated to robbery and theft, the proceeds of which financed the second part: namely the five ringleaders, who were committed to carrying out an attack.
Police said that the jihadis were known to have committed at least 369 robberies and thefts in and around Barcelona. In addition to theft, the cell members sustained themselves through drug trafficking and document fraud.
According to El Mundo, cell members were dedicated to stealing passports and other identity documents from tourists in Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city and one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. The stolen documents were introduced into black market counterfeiting networks and then used by jihadis to travel throughout Europe.
On January 18, the Audiencia Nacional (National Court), a high court specialized in terrorism offenses, revealed that a Spanish citizen of Libyan origin nicknamed “Rabeh,” who was serving a sentence in the Catalan prison of Brians I for crimes relating to terrorism, had made contact with the cell, with the intention of carrying out an attack upon his release.
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