Experience of Eta and Madrid bombings puts Spain on alert

New ID card has serious purpose of making Spain safer

 A Muslim protester holds a placard  during a demonstration  in Madrid against the recent Paris terrorist attacks. Photograph:   Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A Muslim protester holds a placard during a demonstration in Madrid against the recent Paris terrorist attacks. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

 

On Monday, Spain unveiled the latest version of the country’s electronic ID card, known as the “DNI 3.0”. At a ceremony in the Catalan town of Lleida, interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz handed the first new document to a smiling Mireia Belmonte, Spain’s best-known swimming star.

But despite the glitz, the new ID card, as Fernández Díaz pointed out, has the deeply serious purpose of making Spain “a safer country”, a priority brought into particularly sharp focus in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in France.

Prompted by that tragedy, this month the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy is expected to unveil an anti-radicalisation plan based heavily on the UK model. It will seek to identify early signs of extremism among the country’s 1.7 million Muslims, particularly youths.

The government is also trying to reach agreement with other parties on a series of amendments to the criminal code that would include increasing controls on internet use and broadening powers to identify extremist “lone wolves”.

“Spain is recognised globally as a country that is particularly prepared for the fight against terrorism,” Fernández Díaz told El País newspaper, citing the four decades the country spent battling separatist group Eta. But he then added: “Absolute safety and zero risk do not exist.”

Ignacio Cembrero, a journalist who specialises in North Africa and terrorist-related issues in Spain, believes the government is taking this issue extremely seriously. Fernández Díaz, he says, “is one of the most hardline European ministers when it comes to toughening anti-terror measures”.

Spain has not seen any jihadist-related attacks in recent years and it has had relatively few Muslims travelling to Syria and Iraq to take part in the fighting there compared with the UK, France and Germany.

2004 attack

Madrid

Also, Spain’s proximity to France and Morocco and the fact it has two territories on the North African coast – Ceuta and Melilla – mean it is inevitably of interest for those observing European jihadism. There has been a steady stream of arrests of suspected terrorists in recent years and, last June, nine people were detained in Madrid on suspicion of recruiting and training fighters for the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. In December, the government raised the national terror alert, following warnings that an imminent attack was possible.

Statistics tell of another worrying development. Between 1996 and 2012, about one in five of all those jailed in Spain in relation to jihadist terrorism were Spanish citizens; in the last two years, that figure has soared to about 70 per cent.

“We’re seeing how jihadist activity, which until recently was carried out by foreigners, is now becoming a Spanish brand inside our own borders,” Fernando Reinares, a terrorism expert at the Elcano Institute, noted in a recent report.

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq, he added, have encouraged this trend, particularly in Ceuta and Melilla.

Apart from a handful of cases of racist graffiti near mosques in recent days, Spain’s Muslims have not seen the kind of racist backlash that has been worrying authorities in France and Germany.

As for the possibility that Spanish satirical publications, which have a much more limited impact than Charlie Hebdo, might emulate the French magazine by knowingly offending Muslims, Riay Tatari, of the Spanish Muslim Association, offers a cautious message.

Muslim community

“They know how much it would damage relations with the Muslim community. We’re in favour of freedom of expression, but not in favour of licentiousness.”

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