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2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Spain

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 August 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Spain, 5 August 2010, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

During 2009, Spain continued to confront and suffer from both radical Islamist terrorism and domestic Basque terrorists. Spain maintained close cooperation with the United States to investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism, prevent future attacks, and worked hard to disrupt terrorist acts that might be directed against U.S. interests.

The Government of Spain and its citizens recognized that their country remained a principal target of Islamist terrorist groups who routinely called for "recapture" of the Iberian Peninsula, "liberation" of Spain's North African enclaves in Ceuta and Melilla, and for the Spanish military's withdrawal from multilateral forces in Afghanistan and Lebanon. In October, al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) decision to name its propaganda unit, "al Andalus", reinforced the Government of Spain's concern that Spain remains a priority target for AQIM. In late November, AQIM kidnapped three Spanish aid workers in Mauritania as a convoy from their Barcelona-based non-governmental organization traveled through West Africa to deliver humanitarian assistance. At year's end, two of the three were still being held; one had been released.

Spain's geographical location and large immigrant population from North Africa and South Asia, combined with the ease of travel to other European countries, made it a strategic crossroads for international terrorist groups. Spain remained an important transit, fundraising, and logistical base for terrorist organizations operating in Western Europe. Spain continued to aggressively target terrorist recruiters and facilitators. The Ministry of Interior arrested 14 suspected Islamist terrorists.

In order to implement the Council of Europe's Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, Spain's Council of Ministers in November approved legislative reforms in the nation's counterterrorism laws. These reforms criminalized such offenses as inciting terrorism as well as recruiting, training, indoctrinating, or financing terrorists. The proposal requires parliamentary approval to become a binding law.

Meanwhile, the Spanish judiciary remained active in combating Islamist terrorism. In January 2008, authorities arrested members of an alleged terrorist cell for plotting to attack Barcelona's transportation system. In December 2009, the National Court convicted all 11 defendants, primarily Pakistanis, for membership in a terrorist organization, with sentences ranging from 8.5 to 14.5 years. In November 2009, a Spanish judge indicted seven additional persons for their alleged roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

On the domestic front, 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the terrorist group Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), whose aim is to create an independent Basque state. The group marked its anniversary with a series of high profile and deadly bombings. ETA claimed its first victim of the year weeks earlier when it used a car bomb on June 19 to assassinate a national police officer in the Basque Region. On July 29, ETA detonated an explosive-laden van outside a Civil Guard barracks in Burgos. The blast injured more than 60 Civil Guards, spouses, and children. The following day, ETA killed two Civil Guards in Mallorca with a car bomb.

2009 was also noteworthy for the change of administration in the Basque regional government. The Socialist Party, under Patxi Lopez's regional leadership, assumed power as the first non-Basque nationalist government to administer the Basque Country since the restoration of democracy in Spain nearly 30 years ago. Lopez's administration implemented a more unequivocal counterterrorism policy to confront ETA.

Building on strong results in 2008, Spain intensified its cooperation with the French government and continued to put considerable pressure on ETA. Joint operations with France resulted in, among other successes, the detention of ETA's suspected military leader and its alleged political chief, who also reportedly served as the group's communications chief. Each of these arrests – as well as numerous others – occurred in France with the participation of Spanish security forces. As of mid-December, security services had arrested 124 alleged ETA members or associates, including 31 in France. Joint operations also resulted in the seizure throughout August of more than a dozen arms caches. The European Court of Human Rights in June upheld Spain's 2003 ban on the political party Batasuna for its ties to ETA.

Spain participated in the Megaports and Container Security Initiatives, and worked hard to deny terrorists access to Spanish financial institutions. The Spanish government maintained a robust law enforcement and intelligence posture against terrorist financing. Spain was a member of the G8 Counterterrorism Action Group and provided technical assistance to other countries to help build their institutions to counter terrorist financing. Spain is a longtime member of the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force and its efforts to combat money laundering were considered comprehensive and effective.

During a visit to Washington in June, Spain's Interior Minister and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed an Agreement on Preventing and Combating Serious Crime that allows for the exchange of fingerprints and other data on known terrorists and criminals while protecting individual privacy. The Interior Minister also signed a Letter of Intent with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to expand bilateral science and technology cooperation in order to enhance security and combat transnational threats.

In support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Spain increased its contingent of more than 750 troops to roughly 1,000. President Zapatero voiced support for President Obama's strategy for increasing overall ISAF troop levels further.

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