Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 38 Issue 15
Author: Christian Tratzi
The arrest of a jihadist network in Spain underscores the persistent threat posed by Islamic State affiliates within the country. Through effective inter-agency collaboration, the Spanish police successfully dismantled a significant terrorist network and confiscated cryptocurrency channels employed for financing extremist activities.
This operation not only reflects the resolute efforts of law enforcement but also serves as a stark reminder of the modus operandi employed by jihadist organisations. The incident has triggered heightened concerns in Spain and across Europe, raising alarms about the looming dangers emanating from religious extremism and radicalisation. The necessity for sustained vigilance and cooperation among European nations is evident in the face of such developing threats.
- The MIYA operation revealed the existence of a transcontinental IS support network with ramifications across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia.
- Using cryptocurrencies, alongside traditional international transactions, showcased the adaptability of terrorist organisations to modern financial technologies.
- By thwarting the implementation of two planned terrorist attacks, the operation not only showcased the effectiveness of intelligence-sharing and joint operations among various nations in preventing large-scale acts of terror.
In 2021, the Comisaría General de Información (General Commissariat of Information – CGI) started the operation MIYA to counter potential terrorist activities in the country. The first phase of the operation led to the arrest of eight individuals across Europe and North Africa; notably, it prevented a planned Islamic State attack in France.
The success of the initial phase prompted the second phase, focusing on a broader network with connections spanning Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Investigators discovered that the suspects, who belonged to the Islamic State support network, were financing their terrorist activities through criminal enterprises in Europe.
Lasting two and a half years, the investigation’s prolonged duration highlighted the complexity of the network and the challenges faced in unravelling its intricacies. The recent phase, concluding in December 2023, targeted and successfully detained five individuals in Spain.
The network’s activities included planning terrorist attacks and financing Islamic State operatives through funds obtained from criminal activities in Europe, and the investigation revealed connections to Afghanistan, the Middle East, Sahel, Maghreb, and Europe. The authorities seized cryptocurrencies worth nearly €200.000, emphasising the network’s use of international financial channels.
Besides this, the Spanish National Police, along with the General Directorate of Security and Territory (DGST) of Morocco, conducted a joint operation that resulted in the arrest of 9 jihadists in Melilla.
Spain and the Terrorist Threat:
Understanding the geopolitical context and regional dynamics is paramount in comprehending the implications of this counterterrorism operation. Spain’s geographical proximity to North Africa, coupled with historical and cultural ties, makes it susceptible to terrorism threats emanating from the region and the propagation of extremist ideologies.
The recent arrests underscore the evolving nature of terrorist threats, with networks involved in radicalisation, fundraising through criminal activities, and active support for planned attacks.
Spanish collaboration with countries such as Morocco and Algeria underscores the strategic importance of regional alliances in combating transnational terrorist networks.
Islamic State’s use of cryptocurrencies to support its network unveils the terrorist organisations’ significant adaptation to modern financial technologies, posing challenges to traditional tracking methods.
The noticeable increase in counterterrorism operations in Spain, particularly those involving the Islamic State, shows a persistent threat. The radicalisation of individuals within the country poses internal security challenges, necessitating continuous vigilance and proactive measures to counter the ideological spread of extremism.
Regarding this matter, Spanish police forces arrested an Arabic teacher in Madrid in December 2023, with the charge of recruiting minors for the Islamic State. The detained individual is an imam at a mosque in Madrid – Villaverde district – who exploited his teaching role to radicalise young individuals, glorifying the figure of the suicide terrorist in his speech.
The MIYA operation highlights the complexity of counterterrorism efforts, necessitating collaboration among different intelligence and security agencies. Spain’s intelligence capabilities, demonstrated by 22 operations and 54 arrests in the current year alone, reflect a commitment to combating terrorism domestically and internationally.
- Domestic Risk. The successful disruption of the Islamic State support network mitigates immediate risks, but Spain remains exposed to the potential resurgence of such networks or the emergence of new ones. Using cryptocurrencies presents a financial risk, demanding advanced tracking capabilities and collaboration with international financial institutions. Internally, the radicalisation and arrest of individuals within the country show the existence of sympathisers and operatives. The involvement of younger individuals with Spanish nationality, as seen in recent operations, presents a concerning trend, signalling a potential shift towards more direct and imminent threats, and highlights the need to monitor second and third generations of Muslims.
- Regional risks. The MIYA operation has undoubtedly addressed a significant portion of this problem, yet the complex geopolitical landscape suggests the need for sustained efforts and continuous intelligence cooperation. Externally, Spain’s geographical location and historical ties to North Africa expose it to regional dynamics and the spillover of conflicts. The collaboration with countries in the MIYA operation reflects a shared interest in countering the global threat of terrorism. However, the persistence of terrorist networks suggests an ongoing risk that demands sustained vigilance. Regional risks involve the broader context of North Africa and the Middle East, where conflicts and geopolitical tensions may influence the activities of extremist groups. The recent arrests in Melilla and the alert of potential terrorist attacks during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve’s holidays amplify the regional risk.
- Continued Vigilance and International Collaboration. Ongoing collaboration, intelligence-sharing, and proactive measures will effectively mitigate future threats. Enhanced monitoring of financial transactions, including the use of cryptocurrencies, may become paramount. Investment in technological capabilities for cyber intelligence and financial tracking is crucial for staying ahead of evolving terrorist tactics.
- Radicalisation and Internal Threats. Despite external collaboration, internal radicalisation remains a persistent concern. Increased efforts in community engagement, intelligence gathering, and counter-radicalisation programs are crucial to addressing this internal threat. Collaborative initiatives between law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and community leaders can help identify and counteract radicalisation at its roots.
- Adaptation of Tactics. Terrorist networks may continue to adapt their tactics, leveraging advanced technologies and exploiting vulnerabilities. Continuous adaptation of counterterrorism strategies, including technological advancements and cross-disciplinary collaboration, is essential to stay ahead of emerging threats.
The MIYA operation’s success is a significant result of Spain’s counterterrorism efforts and reflects the efficacy of international collaboration. However, to address future threats comprehensively, Spain should focus on strengthening its domestic intelligence capabilities, particularly in the areas of cyber intelligence and financial tracking.
Efforts should focus on countering radicalisation, especially among younger individuals. Community engagement and preventive measures, such as radicalisation programs, will be fundamental.
To effectively navigate the dynamic and developing landscape of terrorist threats, sustained efforts in intelligence, technology, community engagement, and international collaboration are imperative. The recent operations highlight the evolving nature of the terrorist threat in Spain, with transcontinental networks involved in planning and funding terrorism. The collaboration with international partners is crucial, and Spain should continue strengthening ties with countries like Morocco, Algeria, and the United States.
Enhanced regional cooperation should be a priority, given the interconnected nature of terrorist networks. Spain, along with its neighbours, should work towards a unified approach to counterterrorism, sharing intelligence and resources for more effective outcomes. To improve preparedness and response, it is recommended to take pre-emptive measures, such as scenario-based training and continuous assessment of the evolving threat landscape.
Faced with escalating transcontinental threats, Spain should actively participate in global forums addressing counterterrorism strategies. Strengthening diplomatic ties, engaging with international organisations, and contributing to global efforts against terrorism will bolster Spain’s position in countering the multifaceted challenges posed by extremist ideologies.
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