Spanish intelligence services are on heightened alert as North African Salafite groups appear to be merging with al-Qaeda, strengthening the network in the Iberian peninsula, according to police anti-terror sources quoted by daily El Pais. Spain and neighbouring France are the countries most “at risk”. But other European countries where Algerian group the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – formerly the Salafite Group for Preaching and Combat (GPSC) – has penetrated are also vulnerable, the sources said.
France, Spain and the UK are the countries most severely affected by terrorism, and France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands are the countries where in 2006 the highest number of Islamist terrorist suspects were arrested, according to a report on terrorism in Europe released on 10 April by the European police agency Europol.
The majority of the arrested suspects were born in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and had loose affiliations to North African terrorist groups such as the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) and the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Europol report said.
Prosecution offices have begun to cooperate in investigating Salafite terrorist financing networks, El Pais reported. The GSPC has been active in Spain for around a decade and is especially involved in terror financing, recruitment of jihadists to fight in Iraq, Chechnya and Afghanistan and in proselytising activities.
The deadly suicide bombings in Morocco and in Algeria earlier this month have gravely worried Spain’s authorities. They have stepped up police checks at Spanish ports, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, but have not so far raised the country’s official alert level from ‘moderate’ currently to ‘high’.
Spainish police have admitted they know very little about the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which claimed responsibility for the twin suicide attacks in Algiers on 11 April that killed 30 and injured over 100.
Al-Qaeda instructed the GSPC to take under its command other groups such as the GICM, several extremist Tunisian groups and Libya’s Islamic Group, forming a single terror network for North Africa and Europe called the Union of the Arab Maghreb, Catalan daily El Periodico reported last November, citing unnamed Spanish anti-terror intelligence sources.
The GSPC last year swore allegiance to al-Qaeda and changed its name in January to the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Created in 1998, the GSPC was the only militant group to have remained active and refused to abandon armed guerrilla fighting in Algeria in exchange for an government amnesty granting immunity to militants who surrendered.