Spanish al Qaeda?

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
OE Watch
August 2012

FMSO Commentary: On 1-2 August, Spanish police made a significant arrest of three alleged operatives, described as members of al Qaeda, whom authorities said were planning to carry out an attack. Both of the suspects arrested on 1 August on a bus traveling to France were Chechen, and the suspect arrested on 2 August, in the province of Cadiz, was Turkish. Details from the case are only beginning to emerge, so it isn’t perfectly clear where these individuals were planning to attack, but authorities suggest that Gibraltar (in particular, one shopping center there) was the likely target.

This arrest is significant for three major reasons. First, though Spanish authorities have arrested dozens of alleged militants since the deadly Madrid train bombings in 2004, these were the first arrestees since that attack to have been caught with explosives. For this reason, authorities believe that this cell had gone operational.

Second, though much more information will surely be revealed about this plot, the immediate designation of these men as “al Qaeda” is interesting. There is currently a debate about the vitality of al Qaeda as an organization, with some Western analysts suggesting that it is time to “declare victory” in the fight against the group. Did these operatives have a relationship with the jihadi group’s core, or with one of its affiliates? Or was the “al Qaeda” terminology sloppily used as a kind of catch-all term for those trying to commit terrorist acts in service of jihadi causes? Given our limited visibility into al Qaeda’s organizational dynamics, often we learn the most about it through the group’s outputs, such as externally-focused plots. This plot may end up providing a number of relevant data points about how the group operates in late 2012, though one should obviously be cautious about reading too much into a single plot.

Third, it is always worth noting jihadis’ targeting and tactical innovations. The likely target—a shopping center—is fairly familiar, as jihadi actors have attempted to strike such locations previously. However, the apparent intended means of attack, a remote-controlled model airplane, is rather new (other than the device that was to be used in the incident involving the megalomaniacal and apparently incompetent Rezwan Ferdaus, whom the FBI netted in a late 2011 sting operation).

The accompanying article from the prominent Spanish daily El Mundo details some of the latest information to emerge in this case, including the evidence against the accused. End FMSO Commentary (Gartenstein-Ross)

La AVT se persona en la causa contra los tres presuntos miembros de Al Qaeda (The AVT appears at the trial of three suspected al Qaeda members)

The Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) has filed a complaint with the National Court (Audiencia Nacional) judge Pablo Ruz against three alleged members of al Qaeda arrested last week. In a letter sent to Central Court of Instruction no. 5 (al Juzgado Central de Instrucción número 5), the association accused both of the Russians of Chechen origin, Eldar Magomedov and Muhamed Ankari Adamov, who were arrested along with Turkish citizen Cenzig Yalcin, of the offenses of belonging to a terrorist organization and possessing explosives.

The AVT stated in its complaint that both Chechens moved to Spain in April or May of this year, where they contacted Yalcin “in order to prepare to carry out a terrorist attack.”

Attack a Shopping Center

According to the researchers’ hypothesis, the three alleged terrorists might have been planning to detonate an explosive device in the Puerta de Europa shopping center (which is located in Campo de Gibraltar) using a model airplane which has a two-meter wingspan and is capable of carrying a kilogram of explosives. The attack would coincide with the celebration of the Olympic Games in London.

Suspicions were raised after Magomedov and Adamov asked a paragliding instructor if they could take aerial pictures of the area where the attack was allegedly planned, to which he replied that it would first be necessary to request permission from Gibraltar authorities to fly over their airspace.

Yalcin argued before Ruz—who ordered his imprisonment on Friday for possession of explosives for terrorist purposes—that he had legally resided in Gibraltar for seven years, working there as an engineer in a construction company. He admitted to owning three model planes of different sizes, but justified the ownership based on his son’s fondness for that hobby.

The researchers’ assessments are based on analysis of a video seized from Yalcin at his wife’s home in the Línea de la Concepción (Cádiz), which shows a test flight with one of the planes. The Office of the National Court has ordered an expert to examine the voices heard on the video to determine whether they belong to any of the three arrestees.

“Serious Potential”

In the judge’s order of unconditional imprisonment of the two Chechens on Sunday, Ruz alluded to the discovery of an “explosive device” of “serious potential harm” in a villa in La Linea, according to a report contributed by TEDAX [Spain’s specialized bomb disposal team]. This device was composed of about 100 grams of explosive powder inside a glass container and, according to sources, was ready to be used, although it had no fuse.

Ruz sent the two Chechens to prison for another 48 hours last Friday pending the results of new investigative findings.

See the original article here.