The Mossos (Catalan police) reported two Spanish policemen for tipping off the jihadist cell in Sabadell
The Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish court responsible for terrorism and other serious offenses), after investigating and initially charging the two men, dropped the case in February.
The case began a little over a year ago when the Anti-Terrorist Information Brigade of the Catalan police launched a stealthy investigation into a suspected sleeper cell of radical Islamist terrorists whose operational base was in Sabadell and Terrassa, in Catalonia (15 miles inland from Barcelona).
In coordination with the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Audiencia Nacional and under the direction of judge Santiago Pedraz, the Mossos identified the suspects one by one and were authorized to tap their phone calls.
A hairdresser at the centre of the target
For months, the Catalan police followed the trail of these people, especially one of them, Antonio S.M., a 40 year-old former hardresser from Granada, living in Sabadell, who had converted to Islam three years before.
Monitoring teams of the Catalan police tracked every minute of the daily comings and goings of this man and his wife, a young Moroccan. They followed and recorded him in his frequent visits to the mosque in Terrassa. They even attended prayers beside him, according to the summary.
Recruiting terrorists around the mosque
Their attention was not focussed at what happened inside the mosque, but to other, more informal meetings close to the temple, where Antonio S.M. met up with youths, mostly of Moroccan background.
The Mossos, day by day, week by week and month by month, increased the number of suspected jihadists to a dozen, all linked to the hairdresser from Granada living in Sabadell.
Ready to strike
From the phone conversations and data gleaned from international intelligence agencies, the Mossos, the prosecution and the investigating judge reached the conclusion that Antonio S.M. was undoubtedly running a jihadist cell to recruit and indoctrinate jihadists, before sending them to Syria to join the "holy war" being waged by ISIS (Daesh).
Moreover, both the detailed monitoring of the whole group, and information coming in urgently to Barcelona from Bulgaria, France and the United States set off the alarms: the group was ready not only to recruit, but to directly commit attacks in Barcelona. The leader was apparently planning to bomb a Jewish bookshop in Barcelona, with the help of an anti-Catalan neo-Nazi, Diego Frías.
The Mossos tighten the noose
This qualitative leap raised the attention of the investigators still further. From that moment on the police singled out some individuals, who seemed to be acting off guard, for heightened scrutiny.
For several months they were apparently quite unaware that dozens of camouflaged agents were monitoring them, photographing them, filming them, checking their mailboxes, their dustbins, their receipts, their business and professional activities, day and night.
All this behaviour, which at first seemed normal or at least common in the suspects' daily lives, was suddenly cut short. One day last November, the members of the monitoring group working on the case - just codenamed Charonte - looked at each other and frowned.
The tapped phones reported heatedly that some of the suspects being investigated were in touch with one or more Spanish citizens, who were not jihadists or even Muslim. That left the agents perplexed, for they knew of the ultra-Islamist membership of the group, which was very closed and endogamous.
Suspicions are confirmed: it was the CNP
Thanks to a mole inside the group, Catalan police investigators identified a chief inspector and an inspector of the Spanish National Police force (CNP) as the people who had purportedly informed the jihadist cell that the Catalan police were investigating them and were about to make arrests.
According to El Períódico de Catalunya, these two Spanish police officers traveled to Mataró where they met a convert who often helps them, as a police informer, in matters of jihadism. This man later confirmed to the Audiencia Nacional judge that the policemen asked him to contact a Muslim living in Terrassa, and showed him his photograph so as to be able to identify him. The convert contacted another convert who knew the jihadists living in Terrassa. At the beginning of November last year, both men met up with all the members of the cell... including a Catalan police mole, the undercover agent who quickly reported the meeting. The meeting was also surveillanced and photographed by other Catalan police.
The Audiencia Nacional opened a separate investigation
A few days later, the suspicion increased: there were signs that these contacts intended to give those being investigated a helping hand. That is, the Mossos now had evidence that the CNP policemen were warning the suspected terrorist group that it was being investigated, thus jeopardizing the whole operation and their personnel: the terrorists were apparently told there was a mole in their midst, and this raised their level of paranoia.
The Catalan police command, now clearly shocked, delivered a fully-fledged complaint to Judge Santiago Pedraz. Given the evidence, the judge opened a separate line of enquiry.
The suspects take protective measures
These references to high-ranking officers of the CNP coincided, as explained in detail by the Mossos in their report, with a radical change of behaviour by the suspects, who until then had acted off guard: they suddenly began to take clear measures of vigilance and counter-surveillance. They changed their habits, their meeting places and the times of their meetings.
That confirmed the suspicions that had led to the Mossos to formally report the NPC. Moreover, this new scenario put in serious risk the secret investigation against a sleeper terrorist cell which, as it was being dissected, looked closer to moving into action.
The case is closed without a public explanation
Judge Pedraz went on to open proceedings against various Spanish policemen, charging them with divulging secrets, concealment and terrorist collaboration but, for reasons that still remain a secret and that the Court does not want to reveal, the same judge decided to close the case against those policemen on February 17. Spanish police sources claim that a Moroccan had complained to a judge in Terrassa that he was being extorted by the Catalan police and by the Spanish National Intelligence Centre (CNI). The judge had opened proceedings and instructed the Spanish police to investigate. The officers had spoken with both the complainant and with the Mossos, and had discovered that the Catalan police were planning to dismantle the cell. Before the Spanish police withdrew from the case, the complainant had also learned of the on-going investigation by the Catalan police and had reported it to members of the cell.
El Periódico de Catalunya says judge Pedraz took evidence from the two converts and the infiltrated mole. The first convert, from Mataró, said he had received instructions from two policemen to warn the Terrassa they were going to be arrested. The Spanish policemen admitted they had told the Mataró convert, a police informer, about the Catalan police operation, but denied that their intention was for the suspects to be told they were under surveillance or that they were about to be arrested. Despite the evidence, the public prosecutor, Blanca Rodríguez, decided not to push charges against the two Spanish policemen and the judge closed the case.
The Catalan government explained that three of the potential terrorists (two Moroccan and one Brazilian, aged 18, 24 and 27), on learning they were under scrutiny, hastily set off for Syria by coach on December 12, and that Catalan police had alerted the Bulgarian police to intercept them before they could join the ranks of the Islamic State. They were subsequently arrested by the Bulgarian authorities.
After the operation on April 8 in which 11 of the 12 suspects were arrested in the Catalan cities of Sabadell, Terrassa, Barcelona, Sant Quirze del Vallès and Valls, evidence was collected that the group had photographs of police stations in Catalonia and of emblematic buildings in Barcelona. They apparently planned to kidnap someone and to film his or her beheading, dressed in orange denims, to show that the Yihad is also active in Catalonia.
Photograph: Manoilo Garcia / Ara.
Immediately after the capture, the Catalan police gave judge Pedraz further evidence in the hope that the case against the two Spanish police officers would be re-opened. The case pitted the Interior Ministry with the Catalan Government, and the Audiencia Nacional has yet to reopen the case against the two officers.
Whatever the reason that eventually led this separate case to be closed, there is an untenable climate of mistrust between the Mossos and the CNP, in a topic as extremely delicate and potentially devastating as is jihadist terrorism.
There is no precedent in Spain of allegations of police collusion with Islamist terrorist groups.
The CNI tries to mediate
The Spanish National Intelligence Centre (CNI), who worked closely with the Catalan police in operational aspects and in analysis the situation of this cell, has tried to mediate between the two police forces in a field - that of national security, terrorism and organized crime - in which, whatever the respective politicians say, there is not the slightest collaboration that is required in such an extraordinarily delicate matter of state.
The Mossos charged 8 of the 11 people arrested of the crime of belonging to a criminal organization with terrorist aims, recruitment and indoctrination of others to be sent to fight in war zones or to join the cell which has now been dismantled.
Several of the eight detainees have been charged with preparing to commit terrorist acts. The other three have been charged with covering up, aiding and abetting.
The Prosecutor applauds the operation
The Special Prosecutor against jihadist terrorism in the National Court, Dolores Delgado, said a few days ago in an interview with Economía Digital that "this action by the Catalan police was carried out with a high level of professionalism and precision".
Seven of the 11 detainees, including Antonio S.M., were sent to prison without bail.
The story is leaked to the press
Following the recent leak to the media, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz, and the Catalan Minister of the Interior hurled harsh accusations at each other. The minister said that "fighting terrorism and counter-terrorism policy should be in the hands of the State (the Spanish government) and should not be left to those without the slightest sense of State", and warned that the case will have dire but unspecified "consequences for the future". The Catalan Minister replied that "While the minister deeply regrets that the Catalan police are efficient in fighting terrorism, I am glad that the Spanish police are also efficient in the same struggle." He tried to soften the confrontation saying that "it is not a clash of the Spanish police and the Catalan police (the Mossos), but an allegedly criminal act by members of the Spanish police force."
The Prosecutor's Office of the Audiencia Nacional, instead of calling for the case to be re-opened, will investigate the leaking of the whole report. She wants to find out "who has leaked this, and why" bearing in mind, she stated, that the court investigation concluded no secrets had been divulged.
Catalan public opinion is up in arms at what it perceives as a political attempt to soil the professional standing of the Catalan police force, putting citizens' lives at risk in the process.