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Belgium asked Spain about Ripoll imam’s potential terror links

Saturday 26 August 2017, by siawi3

Source: http://www.politico.eu/article/belgium-asked-spain-about-ripoll-imams-potential-terror-links-report/

Belgium asked Spain about Ripoll imam’s potential terror links: report

Spanish authorities told Belgians imam had no terror link last year.

By Saim Saeed

8/23/17, 9:42 AM CET

Updated 8/23/17, 5:48 PM CET

Belgian authorities contacted Spanish police last year because they were concerned Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam suspected of radicalizing the Barcelona and Cambrils attackers, may have terror links, El País reported Wednesday.

Es Satty was reported to have been in Vilvoorde, a Flemish town near Brussels, between January and March last year looking for work. Vilvoorde Mayor Hans Bonte told El País that Spanish police responded to Belgium’s request for information about whether Es Satty could pose a threat, saying he had no terror links.

“Local police and anti-radicalization officials searched all the information they could and contacted the intelligence services,” Bonte said.

The Barcelona city council confirmed Belgian and Spanish law enforcement agencies were in contact about the imam.

Both Spanish and Belgian authorities reiterated in the aftermath of the twin attacks in Catalonia that Es Satty “had no suspicious records,” while refusing to divulge more information.

Catalan police say it is likely Es Satty died in an explosion at a house in the town of Alcanar, where the terror cell stored explosives and shrapnel, a day before the attacks took place.

Detainees from the cell revealed on Tuesday they initially planned to bomb monuments across Barcelona including the Sagrada Familia.

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Source: http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-spain-security-belgium-idUKKCN1B419P

August 24, 2017 / 1:30 PM / a day ago

Belgium gave tip to Catalan police about imam before attack - source

Photo: People gather at an impromptu memorial where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain.Albert Gea

Julien Toyer

MADRID (Reuters) - A Belgian policeman told a Catalan colleague in 2016 that an imam thought to have instigated last week’s Barcelona attack was a suspicious person but no information was found then to tie him to Islamist militancy, a Catalan government source said.

Police in the northeast Spanish region of Catalonia are coming under growing criticism over the van attack that killed 13 people. Two others were killed during the van driver’s getaway and in a separate attack further down the coast.

Some Spanish media accused Catalan police on Thursday of failing to properly investigate the Moroccan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty. Meanwhile a wider blame game is being played out between central authorities in Madrid and officials in Catalonia, whose leaders are pushing for independence from Spain.

Spanish High Court Judge Fernando Andreu on Thursday released - on certain conditions including a ban on leaving Spain and handover of passport - another of the four suspects arrested over the attacks, Salh El Karib, a court order said.

El Karib ran an internet cafe in the Catalan town of Ripoll where most of the members of the Islamist cell, who were mostly young men of Moroccan descent, lived.

El Karib bought a plane ticket for Es Satty to fly on Oct. 15, 2017 and two tickets for another suspect, Driss Oukabir, to fly on Aug. 12 and 13, a few days before the attacks, the court order said. The flights were all with Air Arabia.

The order did not specify the destinations but Spanish press reports have said Oukabir, who rented the van used in the Barcelona attack, flew back to Spain from Morocco on Aug. 13. Air Arabia flies from Barcelona to a number of Moroccan cities.

Judge Andreu accepted El Karib’s statement that he bought the tickets on behalf of Oukabir’s 17-year-old brother, who did not have a credit card, and that he was reimbursed in cash.

Andreu on Tuesday ordered Driss Oukabir and Mohamed Houli Chemlal remanded on charges of murder and membership of a terrorist organisation, while another man was freed under the same conditions as El Karib.

The other eight known members of the group, including Es Satty and the younger Oukabir, were killed by police or died in an explosion in a house that appeared to be a bomb factory.

Andreu met high-ranking security officials on Wednesday to set out a common strategy for the investigation, a judicial source said.

The source said the meeting was a first step towards integrating the two Spanish police forces - the Civil Guard and the National Police - in the investigation, which had until now been managed by the Catalan police. The objective was to better coordinate various police forces in countering security threats.

TIP-OFF

The tip-off about Es Satty, the Muslim cleric, was made informally between two police officials from Belgium and Catalonia who knew each other, a source in Catalonia’s regional government told Reuters.

“The communication between the two policemen was not official. They knew each other because they had met in a police seminar,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Catalan police records, however, had turned up nothing on Es Satty. “The documents show that we had no information about the imam,” the source said, and the only official communication channels of the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, with police in other nations were through Spain’s central government.

The Catalan regional government and the Madrid central government declined to comment.

It remains unclear whether Catalan police made their own attempts to follow up the lead.

The top home affairs official in the Catalan regional government, Joaquim Forn, said on Thursday that Catalan authorities had been unaware of any investigation of the imam or that he could pose a threat, Spanish news agency EFE said.

Es Satty spent around three months in the Belgian town of Vilvoorde, a known centre of Islamist radicalism, between January and March last year.

He later went to Catalonia to be the imam of Ripoll, where he is suspected of having recruited and radicalised most of the group which carried out last week’s attacks.

CHANCE MISSED?

Vilvoorde Mayor Hans Bonte said last week Es Satty had been “intensely screened” by Belgian police at the request of the local Muslim community when he was looking for a job there, and he had told Spanish police by email of Es Satty’s whereabouts.

El Pais newspaper quoted Bonte on Thursday as saying he had received a reply from police in Barcelona on March 8 last year. “They said the imam had no links to radical groups,” he said.

Sources close to the investigation told Reuters earlier this week the regional Catalan force might have missed an opportunity to uncover the plot because of procedural errors and a lack of communication among investigators.

The errors and miscommunication centred around a major explosion on Aug. 16, the eve of the attack, at a house where it was later discovered that members of the Islamist group had been assembling bombs, the sources said. Catalan police say Es Satty, 44, and another man died in that blast.

Spain ordered Es Satty’s expulsion from the country after he served a four-year jail term for drug trafficking but this was annulled by a court in 2015 after Es Satty appealed, court officials have said.

The judge at the time overturned the expulsion order partly because Es Satty had employment roots in Spain, which he said "shows his efforts to integrate in Spanish society".

There was no information before the court at the time to link Es Satty to Islamist militancy, the officials said.

Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Thursday he did not expect the attacks to have any significant short-term impact on tourism, which accounts for about 11 percent of the Spain’s economy.

Additional reporting by Jesus Aguado, Adrian Croft and Sarah White; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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Source: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84478

First Published: 2017-08-22

Spanish town Ripoll reels from discovery of its young jihadists

Most of 12 men in Barcelona terror cell grew up in tiny seaside town where their mother says one imam taught them ‘distorted Islam’.

Middle East Online

Photo: Attacker’s relatives gather with local Muslim community in Ripoll to denounce terrorism

RIPOLL - In the small Spanish border town of Ripoll, a seven-year-old Moroccan boy suddenly found himself without his big brothers at home — two had been gunned down by police as suspected jihadists, the other arrested.

"They were addicted to the imam," said the boy, repeating what he heard about his brothers from adults around him.

Five days after a van ploughed into pedestrians on Barcelona’s busy tourist boulevard Las Ramblas and a similar assault in the seaside resort town of Cambrils, Ripoll is reeling from the discovery that many of the suspects lived among them.

Most of the 12 men in the alleged terror cell grew up or lived in the town of around 10,000 inhabitants at the foot of the Pyrenees.

Despite their horror over the carnage, the people of Ripoll affectionately describe the youths as "the kids" and say they were "completely integrated" into the town, whose population is about five percent Moroccan.

- ’Distorted Islam’ -

"Two of my sons — Youssef and Said — are dead because an imam taught them distorted Islam," said the seven-year-old boy’s father Brahim Aallaa.

"They couldn’t even speak Arab. They spoke Catalan, Spanish, Berber," the Moroccan textile factory worker said in an interview in a square in the old town.

"The other son, Mohamed, will go to prison because he lent his car to his brother."

Said was shot dead by police in Cambrils, along with three of his childhood friends, in the Audi he apparently borrowed from Mohamed and which was used to run down pedestrians in the resort. A fifth suspect was gunned down as he fled the scene, stabbing one woman to death.

Aallaa, who arrived in Spain in 1999, said he still does not know for sure how Youssef died.

The Spanish press has reported that Youssef was blown up in an accidental explosion in the suspects’ bomb factory in Alcanar where 120 gas canisters were later discovered by police.

But his death has not been confirmed by investigators who are still running DNA checks.

Police said the blast probably changed the plans of the jihadists, who were plotting one or more attacks in Barcelona, as it deprived them of the bombs they were building.

- ’I taught them addition and division’ -

Known for its monastery founded in the 9th century, Ripoll fiercely champions its Catalan identity, with "yes" flags for regional independence fluttering on several balconies.

Tucked under the tree-lined mountains about 90 kilometres north of Barcelona, the village had no clue that the insidious tendrils of jihadism had crept up on it.

Nuria Perpinya said her "blood freezes over" when she looks at charts in the press listing the suspects.

"These are terrorists but it makes my heart break. It’s a contradictory feeling," said the social worker, 36. "Some are my children, I taught them addition and division."

Until 2015, Perpinya worked for a regional programme battling exclusion and admits having "good memories of these normal boys, who were totally integrated".

?? Nevertheless, she acknowledged that some of them "didn’t have much personality but were most vulnerable".

- ’Good neighbours’ -

In a small but neat building at the entrance of Ripoll, Moussa Oubakir, 17, lived with his mother.

He is one of five siblings, including an older brother, Driss, detained on suspicion he was part of the terror cell.

"People talking about Moussa would never use a negative word to describe him. He is considerate, well brought up, joyful," said the deputy mayor in charge of integration, Maria Dolors Vilalta.

But on the social network Kiwi, where he was actively participating two years ago, Moussa sent two flirty messages, punctuated by a chilling one in which he vowed to "kill infidels and spare only Muslims who practise their religion".

In the early hours of Friday, he was gunned down by police in Cambrils.

Houssaine Abouyaaqoub, also known as "Houssa", also a minor, was killed at the same time.

On Monday, Houssa’s big brother Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, was gunned down by police after a massive manhunt for the Moroccan suspected of the Las Ramblas rampage and who went on to stab to death a man while hijacking his car to get away.

"Houssa and Younes were very good neighbours," said Perpinya.

Tour guide Cesar Garcia, 53, whose son went to school with the younger brother, agreed.

"Houssa was a bright and responsible boy. You wouldn’t be worried if you knew your son was heading out for a party with him," he said.

Bucking the pattern of often disenfranchised youths who have a record of petty crime before turning to bigger assaults, the Ripoli boys came neither from poor nor marginalised families in a town where there are no ghettos.

Among their fathers, "most are forestry workers, others have jobs in the metallurgy industry," said Vilalta.

And at least two of the older young men have a job in the textile or metal industries, according to those who know them.

"There has never been any problems on integration" in Ripoll, said mayor Jordi Munell.

"Some (of the suspects) had jobs, cars, mobile phones, computers, plans for their future."

- ’Praying day and night’ -

Brahim Aallaa said that "during Ramadan, they (his sons) said they were out praying with the imam all day and night".

"After that, Youssef changed. He took his brother’s car and left, saying he was looking for work."

Three pairs and a trio of brothers were part of the cell, the younger siblings likely following their big brothers.

Investigators had focused on Abdelbaki Es Satty, an imam in Ripoll accused of recruiting and brainwashing the youngsters.

Satty, a Moroccan who arrived in Ripoll in 2015, was killed Wednesday in the Alcanar blast.

Ripoll is only now learning details about the imam’s life, including his imprisonment from 2010 to 2014 for drug trafficking.

But worshippers in the local mosque insist he preached only the Koran there, nothing more.