Last Updated: Mon Dec 13, 2010 06:48 am (KSA) 03:48 am (GMT)

US sees Barcelona center of Islamic radicals: cable

US Embassy in Madrid proposed setting up an intelligence hub in the northeastern region of Catalonia
US Embassy in Madrid proposed setting up an intelligence hub in the northeastern region of Catalonia

The U.S. grew so concerned about the possibility of an Islamist terrorist attack in Spain in 2007 that it proposed setting up a counterterrorism center in the country's second-largest city, according to confidential cables.

The cable, dated Oct. 2, 2007, said U.S. and Spanish authorities had identified Catalonia as having a "large Muslim Population Susceptible to Jihadist Recruitment" following increased surveillance after the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people.

 Specifically, we propose that our Consulate General in Barcelona become the platform for a multi-agency, jointly-coordinated counterterrorism, anti-crime, and intelligence center 
Former US ambassador in Spain, according to WikiLeaks

"Specifically, we propose that our Consulate General in Barcelona become the platform for a multi-agency, jointly-coordinated counterterrorism, anti-crime, and intelligence center," said the cable, classified secret and apparently authored by then-Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre.

The goal was "combating the target-rich environment of terrorist and criminal activities centered in the region," which has a "presence of over 1 million Muslims," the cable says.

In March 2004, a total of 191 people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded in bombing attacks on Madrid commuter trains. Islamic militants claimed responsibility.

One U.S. cable, dated 2005, sets the scene, saying that "Spain is both a significant target of Islamic terrorist groups and a major logistical hub for Islamic extremist groups operating across the globe."

The 2007 cable says Spain "is a past and current al-Qaida target" and a critical player in U.S.-EU counterterrorism efforts.

It says Barcelona has a large Muslim population "susceptible to jihadist recruitment" and adds that "Spanish and U.S. authorities have identified Catalonia as a major Mediterranean center of radical Islamist activity."

According to the cable, heavy immigration - both legal and illegal - from North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and Southeast Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh) had made the region "a magnet for terrorist recruiters."

The plans for the proposed center say 13 agents would be strategically situated to monitor quickly who and what was passing through the area from places such as Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and the south of France.

"The threat in Catalonia is clear," the cable says, categorizing Barcelona as a "crossroads of worrisome activities" and a natural meeting place and transit point of people and goods moving to and through the region from all countries bordering the western Mediterranean.

It is not clear whether the center was ever created, and the U.S. Embassy in Madrid declined to comment about that Saturday.

Embassy spokesman Jeff Galvin would only say that the U.S. and Spain enjoy "excellent cooperation" in counterterrorism investigations.

This view is echoed in an October 2006 U.S. cable, which says that Spain "has made great strides in disrupting terrorist cells and frustrating would-be terrorist plots" and that the U.S. was pleased with Spain's counterterrorism cooperation.

Last month, 11 men - nine of Pakistani nationality or origin - went on trial in Barcelona for allegedly plotting to stage suicide attacks in that city on orders from the Pakistan Taliban.

Police foiled the alleged plan with a series of raids in January 2008 after a member of the cell designated to blow himself up got cold feet and alerted authorities, a Spanish prosecutor said.

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