US intel hub to counter Islamism in Spain: WikiLeaks

Catalonia has "large Muslim population susceptible to jihadist recruitment".

Madrid: The US embassy in Madrid proposed setting up an intelligence hub in the northeastern region of Catalonia to counter a "major centre of radical Islamist activity”, according to a US cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published on Saturday by the newspaper El Pais.

The cable, dated October 02, 2007, said US 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 centre," said the cable, classified secret and apparently authored by then-Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre.

It was not immediately clear whether the centre was set up in Barcelona. US embassy officials in Madrid were not immediately available for comment.

The cable said the inhabitants of the Catalonian capital Barcelona traditionally believed themselves to be culturally different from other Spaniards and the city was now home to many migrants from North Africa and Southeast Asia who felt marginalised.

"Spanish authorities tell us they fear the threat from these atomised immigrant communities prone to radicalism, but they have very little intelligence on or ability to penetrate these groups," the cable added.

Organised crime

The cable also noted that Catalonia attracted drug-traffickers and money-launderers and was a destination for human trafficking, as well as home to organised crime and money counterfeiters.

"Spain remains the principal entry and trans-shipment zone for the large quantities of South American cocaine, Moroccan cannabis, and Afghan heroin destined for Spanish and European Union consumer markets," it said.

The embassy added that Barcelona, Spain`s second city, was also a major port where US security agents worked with port authorities to screen US-bound cargoes.

The cable concluded by saying an inter-agency US team working from its consulate in Barcelona would "help leverage the substantial resources and expertise of Spanish and regional authorities”.

"The Spanish political class is gradually waking up to the amorphous threat represented by the nexus of terrorism, crime, and drug trafficking, and would likely look favourably on our proposal," it said.

Bureau Report