According to recently leaked information about a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, European intelligence services are greatly concerned about the number of Islamic terror groups who have set up shop in Barcelona and adjacent areas of Catalonia.
Many thanks to our Spanish correspondent Hermes for translating this article from last Thursday’s El Confidencial Digital:
Merkel to Rajoy: “I am very worried about Catalonia.” The German intelligence services have determined that the main jihadi groups hide in this province
“I am very worried for what happens in Catalonia,” Angela Merkel told Mariano Rajoy in a private meeting they held during the Spanish Premier’s visit to Germany last February.
Besides dealing with the issues of the political EU agenda, which they talked about later in a press conference, during their meeting Merkel and Rajoy also discussed the status of Catalonia as a “terrorist sanctuary”.
El Confidencial Digital learned from diplomatic sources and the Spanish Intelligence Service that the conversation took place with the help of an interpreter, and that there were also “some misunderstandings” between both leaders.
Having reached a certain point in the talks, Angela Merkel said to Rajoy that “she was worried about what was happening in Catalonia”. The Spanish Premier, having understood these words as referring to the nationalist outburst of the Catalan government, tried to calm her by assuring that it was just about politics, and that this issue would not have serious consequences.
Merkel quickly corrected her words: “I am talking about terrorism. Our intelligence services tell us that the overwhelming majority of jihadi sleeper cells are under cover in Catalonia.”
This was an answer which, according to information received later by the Spanish Foreign Service in Berlin, caught Mariano Rajoy “wrong-footed”.
Then she informed him about certain data obtained by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Information Service), and she also said that “half of Europe’s intelligence services corroborate this.”
Informed sources confirmed that Merkel told Rajoy that this was a top security problem. Germany is worried about the presence of such groups as the Muslim Brotherhood, “Takfir Wal-Hijra”, “Justice and Spirituality” and “Yama’a al-Tabligh al-Da’wa”, all legal in Spain but with unconfirmed support for terrorism.
A CIA antiterrorist office in Barcelona
The US intelligence community has the same data, due to the fact that in 2008 the CIA opened a permanent department with antiterrorist agents in the US Consulate in Barcelona.
This information, which was leaked in 2010 during the first Wikileaks cable declassifications, pointed out that “the jihadist menace in Catalonia is clear. The USA needs to know who and what circulates in the area from Algeria, Tunis, Rabat and the south of France. The consulate in Barcelona would be the ideal platform for the headquarters for it has enough space, secure communications and it lies in a good location.”
According to one of the leaked diplomatic cables, “Spanish and American authorities have identified Catalonia as the largest center of radical Islamist activities in the whole Mediterranean region.” “Both legal and illegal immigration from North Africa (Morocco, Tunis, Algeria) as well as that from Pakistan and Bangladesh makes this region into a magnet for recruiting terrorists.
“The national police estimate that there are some 60,000 Pakistani nationals living in Barcelona and its outskirts, the majority of them male, unmarried and without papers. There are also a large number of North African immigrants. They live on the fringes of Spanish society and do not speak the language; they are often unemployed and have too few places to practice their religion with dignity.
“It is ultimately a fertile ground for the recruiting of terrorists. All these factors in one make the threat very clear. Catalonia has turned into the top operational base for terrorist activities”.
They also point out that “The Spanish authorities tell us that they fear the menace coming from this atomized community of immigrants prone to radicalism and they have too little information and capability to infiltrate those groups”.
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