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 seizes first underwater drug smuggling drones

Spanish police said on Monday they had seized six underwater drones capable of transporting large quantities of drugs from Morocco to Spain and broken up a gang suspected of manufacturing them.

Spain seizes first underwater drug smuggling drones

Officers seized six of the so-called “drone submarines” and arrested eight people in raids carried out in Barcelona and the southern provinces of Málaga and Cádiz, a police statement said.

Police said it was the first time they had seized such devices, which are officially known as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

They believe the gang made underwater drones “capable of bearing big loads” for use by other criminal organisations.

“These devices could allow drug traffickers to transport large quantities of narcotics remotely across the Strait of Gibraltar,” the statement said.

The drones had up to 12 motors each and a range of 30 kilometres (18 miles).

That is easily enough to manage an underwater crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar separating Spain from Morocco which measures just 15 kilometres (nine miles).

Three of the drones were due to be delivered to a French drug ring to “transport significant amounts of cocaine”, the statement said.

The gang also built false bottoms into vehicles to allow gangs to smuggle drugs, as well as “unmanned semi-submersible vessels” that could carry up to 200 kilogrammes (440 pounds) of product.

Their customers included criminal gangs in Denmark, France, Italy and Spain, police said.

Spain’s physical proximity to Morocco, a major hashish producer, and its close ties with former colonies in Latin America, a major cocaine producing region, have made it a key entry point for drugs bound for Europe.