Former anti-ETA militant turned Isis backer held in Spain

A former member of Spain's GAL death squads which targeted ETA separatists in the 1980s was arrested Tuesday for allegedly disseminating propaganda for the Islamic State (IS) group, the interior ministry said.

Former anti-ETA militant turned Isis backer held in Spain
Photo: Interior Ministry

The man, whose identity and age were not revealed, had “served a sentence for the murder of French railway worker Jean-Pierre Leiba… in 1984 as part of the GAL armed group,” the ministry said in a statement, adding he was “considered very dangerous.”

Leiba was killed by mistake in Hendaye in southwestern France while he was with three Basques.

The attack was committed by the GAL – secret armed squads set up to fight ETA, which long campaigned for independence for the Basque Country.    The GAL – meaning Anti-Terrorist Liberation Groups – was accused of 28 killings between 1983 and 1987, most of them in the French Basque region.

The alleged jihadist was arrested on Tuesday in Segovia, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Madrid.

According to the ministry, he was born in Irun on the border with France, and had adopted ideas revolving around “religious extremism of a jihadist nature and was disseminating propaganda for Daesh,” an Arabic term for IS, also known by the acronyms of ISIS or ISIL.

He was “determined to commit a terrorist attack,” it added.    

The suspect had been under police surveillance, the ministry said, having travelled “to war zones in Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine where he expressed willingness to commit suicide attacks if he had the opportunity.”    

According to Spanish authorities, 173 alleged jihadists have been detained since 2015, when Spain increased its terror alert to four out of five.    

But unlike nearby France or Belgium, the country is less exposed to the return of nationals who went to fight abroad and plan to commit extremist acts on home soil.

Only around 200 Spaniards are estimated to have gone abroad to fight, compared to thousands from France and Belgium.


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.