Up to 95 Spaniards are Syria Isis fighters

Spanish Police believe "between 30 and 40 people with Spanish passports", as well as many more Moroccan residents in Spain, have flown to Syria to fight as Islamic State rebels. Other authorities point to an even higher figure.

Up to 95 Spaniards are Syria Isis fighters
Spain is one of the EU's main terrorism hubs, according to Europol. Photo: AL-FURQAN MEDIA / AFP

As European authorities continue to release reports showing a shocking increase in the number of citizens from their countries heading to fight in Iraq and Syria, Spain’s Interior Ministry is also attempting to calculate the official figure.

The ministry headed by Jorge Fernández Díaz has so far put the figure at 60, higher than that released by Spain’s Police Information Commission.

An October 2013 report by Spain’s Interior Ministry actually estimated that “an average of 30 people a month – including men, women and children – were being recruited and sent to Syria” from Spain.

The same study did add however that the influx “must have been circumstantial” as the rate was soon “at a standstill”.

A Europol study published last May named Spain as one of the EU's main terrorism hubs, with only France and the UK more at risk of terror attacks and arrests.

Madrid, Barcelona and the African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are considered to be the country’s main breeding grounds for terrorists.

Spain’s proximity to Morocco is proving equally threatening as many ISIS recruits enlisted in cities such as Tangier or Tetuan hold Spanish residency.

“We know that many of these fighters want to return and are currently in negotiation with Moroccan authorities,” Spanish national daily El País quoted Spanish antiterrorism sources as saying.

“Given the proximity to Ceuta and Melilla, we’re on maximum alert.”

READ ALSO: Spanish girl, 14, arrested 'on way to join ISIS'

At present Spanish authorities only have twelve people on the official list of people recruited to fight with ISIS: nine Spanish citizens, three foreigners – five of whom have died.

The only Spaniard they know has managed to return is Ceuta resident Abdeluahid Daduk Mohamed, born in 1985, married and father of two children.

He was arrested in the southern Spanish city of Malaga last January after flying back from Turkey.

The most dramatic figure provided about Spanish ISIS fighters came from independent radicalization research body ICSR, which put the highest estimate at 95 and the lowest at 34.

According to the same organization, Western Europe has seen a massive upsurge in ISIS recruits with up to 1,937 foreigners (18 percent of all Syria fighters) now in the war-torn country.

Official figures show the French and Danish governments have doubled their estimates since the spring, while in Belgium, Britain and Germany governments believe their figures have quadrupled.

SEE ALSO: Most Italian jihadis with Isis aren't immigrants

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Three suspected jihadists held in Barcelona

A court in Spain on Monday remanded in custody three suspected members of Islamic State arrested last week in Barcelona, including an Algerian man who had fought for the Islamist group in Iraq.

Three suspected jihadists held in Barcelona
Archive photo of a suspected jihadist arrested near Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Spanish authorities began their investigation after becoming aware just before Christmas that the “potentially dangerous” Algerian man was in Spain, police said in a statement.   

The man, a “jihadist” who had fought for the Islamic State group in Iraq, was arrested at a building occupied by squatters in Barcelona's seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta, the statement added.

Police detained two other Algerian men as part of the operation, one suspected of giving him “logistical support” in Spain and another described by police as has “acolyte”.

The operation was carried out in cooperation with European Union law enforcement agency Europol and the FBI, as well as the intelligence services of Spain and Algeria, the statement said.

The three men appeared before a court on Monday where the presiding judge ordered they be remanded in custody on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organisation.

Their arrest comes as the trial of three men accused of helping the jihadists behind the August 2017 attacks in Barcelona and a nearby town that killed 16 people is wrapping up at a court near Madrid.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, one of which involved a van ramming people in the centre of Barcelona.   

While none of the three men on trial are charged with direct responsibility, they are in the dock for helping the attackers, who were all shot dead by police.