The fight against terrorism focuses on the Sahel and radicalized minors

Contrary to public perception, the terrorist threat in Spain is now greater than it was in March 2004, when the jihadist attacks on commuter trains from Atocha took place in Madrid, as sources from the intelligence services assure La Vanguardia.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 March 2024 Monday 11:25
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The fight against terrorism focuses on the Sahel and radicalized minors

Contrary to public perception, the terrorist threat in Spain is now greater than it was in March 2004, when the jihadist attacks on commuter trains from Atocha took place in Madrid, as sources from the intelligence services assure La Vanguardia. Over the last twenty years, the National Intelligence Center (CNI) has adapted its structures based on the metamorphosis that terrorism has undergone, marked by the atomization of large organizations. The fronts from which a terrorist attack can proceed in European territory have multiplied, but there is one that is particularly worrying above the rest: the Sahel.

This highly unstable African area - marked by military coups, the expansion of Russian mercenaries and the withdrawal of Western troops - is the one chosen by most terrorist groups to establish bases from which to organize and coordinate possible attacks. And this is where the CNI has a large part of its focus, dedicating a good number of funds to obtain information from the insides of the organizations, according to the same sources. This information is shared with a multitude of countries, both Western and Muslim, which have a common interest in combating jihadism.

Today, this struggle cannot be understood without international cooperation. Al-Qaida and the Islamic State no longer enjoy the hegemony of global terrorism; countless subsidiaries have been appearing with a high degree of autonomy that are expanding their tentacles. It was easier to fight against the large, clearly identified structures than against the multitude of clusters that are emerging. Much of NATO's presence on Afghanistan's borders for almost two decades could not be explained without the need to keep jihadists at bay. There is now some uncertainty in the CNI because of the situation in Iraq, where pro-Iranian militias are putting pressure on international military missions against jihadist terrorism.

There is no such thing as zero risk, but it is highly unlikely that a structured organization will operate in Spanish territory, according to experts in the fight against terrorism. The main threat is lone actors, who suffer from self-radicalization marked by easy access to jihadist propaganda on social networks. These processes of radicalization are usually in numerous cases so express that they force arrests to be rushed to prevent them. This is another of the great differences that the fight against terrorism has experienced. During the time of ETA, when the terrorist was detected by the secret services, he was not arrested until "he was completely burned", that is to say, all kinds of information had been obtained from him through telephone interventions that could deal a major blow to the structure. not now At the slightest sign of attack, arrest is made.

Precisely these punctures are what allowed the CNI on March 11, 2004, to hear how several ETA terrorists under investigation denied authorship of the attack, which took the Spanish intelligence service "by surprise". In one of the first information notes that were sent to Moncloa, around nine in the morning, jihadist authorship was ruled out, which was already on the table at that first moment. By mid-morning they were clear that ETA had not perpetrated the attack; something that cost the CNI to stay out of the monitoring and evaluation tables of the attack that were held in those days. Something unthinkable two decades later in this matter, because thanks to the integral model of its system it has valuable information both inside and outside the Spanish borders to collaborate with national and autonomous police.

The most recent reports on the fight against terrorism show more and more radicalization, "a wilder way of doing terrorism", the same sources say. While before the attacks were directed against economic or political symbols - such as the World Trade Center -, now the branches of Al-Qaida or the Islamic State talk about killing wherever they can, the more the better. They do it through propaganda consumed by younger and younger boys, hence the current concern of the security forces and bodies for the rise of minor terrorists. This is very violent audiovisual material, which is not only on social networks, but also penetrates through other channels such as video games.