Ex-hitman for Spanish death squad arrested for jihadist links

Former member of anti-ETA group is suspected of planning terrorist attack for Isis

Civil Guard Agents arrest a Spanish citizen in connection with alleged jihadist Daniel Fernandez Acena. Photograph:  Pablo Martin/EPA

Civil Guard Agents arrest a Spanish citizen in connection with alleged jihadist Daniel Fernandez Acena. Photograph: Pablo Martin/EPA

 

A former hitman for Spain’s infamous 1980s state-sponsored death squads has been arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack on behalf of Islamic State.

The Civil Guard arrested the man in the northern city of Segovia, suspecting him of “self-indoctrination in religious extremism of a jihadist nature [and] carrying out distribution of propaganda for Daesh,” the interior ministry reported, using an alternative name for the terror group.

It added that he appeared determined to carry out an attack, possibly a suicide bombing.

Spanish media named the detained man as Daniel Fernández Aceña, who served 18 years in prison for shooting dead a railway worker, Jean Pierre Leiba, in the French Basque Country in 1984.

Fernández Aceña, who was 26 at the time, carried out the murder as a member of the GAL death squads, which targeted the Basque terrorists of ETA with covert state support.

He was also suspected of involvement in the murder of Juan Carlos García, killed in 1984 by a car bomb in the French Basque Country, but that case was eventually dismissed.

Victims

The GAL are believed to have killed about 30 people, although many of their victims were not linked to ETA, including Leiba and García. Revelations in the 1990s about the death squads’ activities rocked the longstanding Socialist government of Felipe González and contributed to its fall.

The authorities believe Fernández Aceña, who is from the Basque town of Irún, subsequently became sympathetic to the jihadist cause, travelling to conflict zones in Afghanistan, Syria and Palestinian territory.  

“His high level of radicalisation would have led him to attempt to obtain the means to commit a terrorist attack, given he would have been prepared to carry out indiscriminate suicide attacks against means of transport,” said the interior ministry.

Fernández Aceña had used social networks to voice his extreme views and the security forces noted that his radicalisation had accelerated in recent months, with him expressing support for several terrorist attacks.

Following his arrest, the authorities were trying to find out if he had accomplices and if he had direct links with Islamic State, also known as Isis, or simply supported their cause.

Spain has arrested 173 people in relation to jihadist terrorism offences since last year, when the country’s terror alert was increased to level four out of five.