Barcelona terror attacks: Spanish authorities missed vital warning signs | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Barcelona terror attacks: Spanish authorities missed vital warning signs

A day before the Las Ramblas attack, an explosion in Alcanar, 200 km from Barcelona, killed one and wounded 16 people. Why wasn’t the terror cell uncovered even after this?

opinion Updated: Aug 21, 2017 13:32 IST
A woman holds a banner reading in Spanish: “I am Muslim and Catalan, not a terrorist. Islam is Peace”, during a protest by the Muslim community to condemn the attacks, in Barcelona, Spain, August 19
A woman holds a banner reading in Spanish: “I am Muslim and Catalan, not a terrorist. Islam is Peace”, during a protest by the Muslim community to condemn the attacks, in Barcelona, Spain, August 19(AP)

The Spanish law enforcement agencies have not been under so much pressure in the past decade as they have been over the past few days: Two terror attacks — one in Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the other in Cambrils, a coastal town about 120 km from Barcelona — killed at least 14 people and left hundreds injured. Police have killed at least five terrorists and are trying to trace the remaining suspects.

The attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils are similar to recent attacks in Nice, Berlin, Stockholm and London. What I find disturbing is that the police had no clue that a large and organised network was present in the country and planning these attacks.

Spanish interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido Álvarez said the terror cell behind the attacks has been “dismantled”, but I have my doubts.

Did the Spanish authorities miss warning signs? A majority of the 12 suspects behind the attacks are from the small Catalan town of Ripoll, eight of them are immigrants of Moroccan origin and all the suspects are below 35 years.

A recent report by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center shows that of the 265 people arrested between 2013 and 2016 in connection to jihadi terrorism in Spain, a quarter of them were from the Barcelona province, about 43% were Moroccan nationals, 50% were unemployed, 75% were between the age group of 18 and 38, and 90% were radicalised within Spain.

To prevent such indoctrination and radicalisation, it is important to identify such agents and use legal measures to prevent it. A Washington Post report says that parents of a few suspects said that “their sons were radicalised by a visiting cleric who spent the last months praying, preaching”.

The warning signs were there for anyone to see, but intelligence failures have let jihadi elements to operate freely. A day before the Las Ramblas attack, an explosion in Alcanar, 200 km from Barcelona, killed one and wounded 16 people. Why wasn’t the terror cell uncovered even after this? At Alcanar, traces of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), were found. We know Triacetone Triperoxide is preferred by IS and was used in Paris (2015), Brussels (2016) and the Manchester (2017) attacks.

Without respecting rights and freedoms of Muslims and making them feel welcome in Spain, it will be hard to check local jihadi recruitment.

It is also important for Muslims themselves lead in this fight against jihadis.

The only way to win this war is by winning the hearts and minds of the people — and not by politicising the attack or terrorising groups in anyway.

Alfons López Tena is a lawyer, former member of the council of the judiciary of Spain and of the Parliament of Catalonia.

The views expressed are personal

Twitter: @alfonslopeztena