Spain one of Europe’s terror hotspots: Report

Spain is one of the EU's terrorism hubs, with only France and the UK more at risk of terror attacks, a Europol report published on Wednesday reveals.

Spain one of Europe's terror hotspots: Report
Juan Ibon Fernandez Iradi, aka "Susper" (C), a former leader of the Basque separatist group ETA, prior to his court hearing in Pau, southwestern France. Photo: Thierry Suire/AFP

There were 33 terrorist attacks and 90 arrests for terror-related activities in Spain in 2013.

Only France with 63 attacks and 225 arrests, and the UK — which saw 35 attacks and 77 arrests — were more dangerous for terrorism.

These are the findings of a new Interpol report into terrorism activities in the European Union in 2013, a year which saw seven deaths in the EU from terror attacks.

The report by the cross-European police agency reveals six of the 33 attacks in Spain were carried out by left-wing groups, and 26 were separatist attacks.

A map showing the number of attacks and the number of arrests for terrorist offences in each country. Image: Interpol

Spain's attacks included the placement of a homemade bomb in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, which did not explode. In October, a similar device was left in the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza, but this device didn't detonate either. 

Another incident saw a parcel bomb was sent to the director of a Catholic school in Madrid.

Among the people arrested on terror charges in 2013 in Spain were members of the Basque separatist group Eta, blamed for more than 800 deaths in a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Also arrested six members of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, and several members of the Turkish communist terrorist movement, the DHKP/C.

In addition, nine men were also arrested in Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta (Spain), suspected of belonging to a terror which sent volunteers to Syria, to fight  alongside groups including Jabhat al-Nusra (‘support front’)  and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

The network appears to have had international links to Morocco, Belgium, Turkey and Syria, and to have successfully sent at  least 12 young Spanish and Moroccan men to Syria, a number  of whom died there in suicide attacks or combat.

"There is a growing threat from EU citizens who, having travelled to conflict zones to engage in terrorist activities, return to the European Union with a willingness to commit acts of terrorism," says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. 

"This was especially evident in the case of Syria in 2013.

"This phenomenon adds a new dimension to the existing threat situation in the European Union, since it provides new groups within Member States with both terrorist intentions and capabilities, which may result in terrorist attacks with unexpected targets and timings,” Wainwright added.

Europol’s report, released on Wednesday, revealed the “continuing terrorist threat posed to the security of citizens and interests of the European Union”.

"Be it right or left-wing extremism, separatism or religiously motivated acts, we need to step up our work to respond to the threat of radicalisation.

“Radicalization leading to violent terrorism is a gradual process and does not happen overnight. In times when populist movements and xenophobic winds are sweeping across Europe, it is more important than ever to keep this in mind." says Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

In 2013, Spain was also the EU country in which the highest number of court proceedings for terrorist offences were  concluded.  Despite a slight dip in numbers, Spain also remains the country in which the majority of terrorism verdicts were rendered.

The average sentence handed out was 14 years.

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Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

Spanish police have begun wearing body cameras to record their interactions with the public in a move aimed at ensuring greater security that is gaining ground in Europe and the US.

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

The interior ministry said the bodycam was launched Monday and would be “rolled out on a gradual basis to all police officers”, without saying how many were involved in the initial stages.

Spain’s TVE public television said the tiny cameras were being attached to the officers’ uniforms and could be activated either manually or automatically.

The main Spanish police union JUPOL hailed the move on Twitter, saying it was in response to “a request that the union has been making”.

“It will guarantee security, both for us to avoid any kind of misrepresentation of our interventions, as well as for the public, who will be able to clearly see the police’s professionalism and that there is no abuse of power nor excesses,” union spokesman Pablo PĂ©rez told TVE.

Forces in Europe and the United States are increasingly turning to such technology to boost transparency following a string of fatal shootings and other claims against police over the past decade.

“The cameras are being used under public safety protocols in order to record everything that happens in the event of an unwarranted offence during an operation,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska told TVE ahead of the rollout.

“If they are activated, it is to guarantee security and really be transparent so that the officers’ actions can be seen and checked,” the minister said.

“This means security for both the police and the public,” he added, suggesting that in time, they would also be available to Spain’s Guardia Civil rural police force.

France began trialling bodycams, known as “pedestrian cameras”, in 2013
before a gradual rollout in 2015 in a move welcomed by police, but greeted with scepticism by rights groups who said there was no guarantee they would be always activated.

Police in London and New York also began pilot schemes in 2014 with credit-card-sized cameras clipped onto their uniforms with the technology gradually deployed over the following years.

But the cameras have had mixed success. The absence of any legal obligation governing their use can also limit their scope to uncover police misconduct.