Spanish bomb dog nabs top UK bravery award

A German Shepherd dog who works with a Spanish Guardia Civil squad charged with protecting the King is to receive a prestigious international prize for saving lives during a 2009 attack by the Basque terrorist group Eta.

Spanish bomb dog nabs top UK bravery award
Ajax with his Guardia Civil handler Sergeant Juan Carlos Alabarces Muñoz. Photo: PDSA

The Spanish Civil Guard dog named Ajax will be honoured on Tuesday with a Gold Medal by the UK animal charity the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

"The PDSA Gold Medal is recognized as the animals’ George Cross and it is the highest honour for ‘civilian’ bravery," Jessica Richardson of the PDSA told The Local. 

It is awarded to animals that are instrumental in saving human or animal life when its own life is in jeopardy, or through outstanding devotion to duty. 

"Our awards are based on nominations, which are then carefully assessed," Richardson explained.

"We give out awards most years, but sometimes there are no worthy candidates."

Only 21 dogs have received the prestigious prize to date. Ajax is the first Spanish dog to be awarded, and only the second from outside the UK. 

The 10-year-old explosives search dog Ajax will receive the medal at a ceremony in Madrid, in the presence of his handler, Sergeant Juan Carlos Alabarces Muñoz.

The dog will receive the award for his role in detecting ETA bombs on the Spanish island of Majorca in July 2009. 

On July 30th 2009, a terrorist attack took place near a Guardia Civil station in Palma Nova, Majorca, days before the King’s annual visit to the island.

The explosion took the lives of two Guardia Civil officers, Carlos Garcia Saenz de Tejada and Diego Salva Lezáun.

Suspecting further attacks, Sergeant Alabarces Muñoz and other Civil Guards were assigned to help in the search and were sent to the Civil Guard barracks in Palma Nova.

Ajax soon found a concealed bomb that had been carefully attached to the underside of a vehicle near the barracks.

The area was evacuated and a controlled explosion of the bomb was carried out successfully. The shrapnel scattered over an area of 100 metres.

Ajax’s handler, Sergeant Juan Carlos Alabarces Muñoz, said: “The bomb had been planted with the sole intention of killing more Guardia Civil personnel. 

"If Ajax had touched any part of the bomb, he would have activated its motion sensor and been killed along with myself and everyone else within range of the bomb," he explained.

Several hours later, Ajax uncovered another bomb under a vehicle in the same area.

"The bomb was planted specifically to kill or injure those rescuing the casualties from the first explosion. The targeted vehicle was parked on a public road, close to several hotels. If Ajax had not found the bomb in time, the outcome would have been tragic," said Alabarces Muñoz.

"Ajax and I have worked together for over nine years – we’re partners and we understand each other very well," said Alabarces Muñoz

"This strong relationship means that even with one small look or signal from him I know straight away that he is telling me something," said the handler of Ajax.

"It is wonderful to see his actions rewarded with the PDSA Gold Medal – there is no other medal quite like this which truly recognizes and honours the role of animals in society.”

Commenting on Ajax’s actions, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said: “Ajax is a most worthy recipient of the PDSA Gold Medal, which acknowledges extreme acts of courage and dedication in civilian situations. His actions on that day, in the terrifying aftermath of the first bombing, undoubtedly saved many lives.

“He now joins an elite group of the world’s most courageous animals.”

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Mallorca closes bars in crack down on hard-drinking tourists

Regional authorities on Spain's Balearic island of Mallorca on Wednesday ordered the immediate closure of bars on three streets popular with hard drinking tourists to limit the potential for coronavirus outbreaks.

Mallorca closes bars in crack down on hard-drinking tourists

Concerned many tourists are not respecting social distancing guidelines, authorities elected to close the venues on the Platja de Palma strip in the capital Palma and Magaluf, a favoured haunt with young booze-fuelled Britons.

One of Europe's hardest-hit nations with almost 30,000 deaths, Spain last month exited one of the globe's toughest virus lockdowns.

But as the summer season starts to take off authorities on the island feared matters could get out of hand unless they took tough action.

Earlier this week, Germany's health minister had expressed concern after hundreds of German tourists were seen partying on the island without masks or keeping a safe distance, fuelling fears of another coronavirus wave.

Local media on the Spanish island voiced outrage after video footage showed mainly German holidaymakers carousing outside bars and terraces on Friday evening, leading the German-language Mallorca Zeitung to note “it was as if no one had ever heard of the corona pandemic”.

The regional government last week had already announced hefty fines for those caught organising illegal parties or flouting rules on social distancing and face masks.

“We do not want uncivil tourists on our islands,” said regional tourism minister Iago Negueruela.

Negueruela warned that if the tourists simply took their boorish behaviour elsewhere then the crackdown would simply be widened.

Authorities in the Balearic Islands off Spain's eastern coast say they need to protect public health even as summer tourism, on which some 200,000 local jobs depend, begins to ramp up.