On Tuesday, Spanish authorities declared that they had broken up an online terrorist network accused of recruiting and indoctrinating individuals within the country to join the Islamic State terror group, which is also known as ISIS and by its Arabic acronym Daesh.
Spain's Guardia Civil has arrested four suspects in the operation, which remains ongoing. Two of them were apprehended in the North African Spanish enclave of Melilla, while the other two were detained in the provinces of Barcelona and Girona.
The suspects caught in Melilla are brothers that are said to have translated Islamic State material into Spanish, distributing it across various Internet platforms. The pair would also convene meetings in homes where they would screen the group's latest videos to potential recruits.
"The two men arrested, who were aligned with the strategy of the terrorist group DAESH, were engaged in the recruitment of women who, after a process of indoctrination, ended up forming part of this terrorist group," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. "One of the detainees managed a virtual community that published the DAESH terrorist group's propaganda. This website had more than 1,000 followers and a great impact in areas of Spain with high rates of Islamic radicalization."
The suspects had many subscribers on Facebook, which they used to reach Islamic State supporters throughout Latin America and countries such as France, Morocco, and the United States.
The cities of Melilla and Ceuta, another Spanish enclave on the North African coast, are the regions where most jihadi recruiting networks within Spain's purview have been broken up. The effort receives critical assistance from the Moroccan intelligence service. A raid in Ceuta last month resulted in the arrests of four suspected members of a militant Islamic network. It was the year's second anti-terrorist initiative since Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Díaz raised the alert for terrorist attacks in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks in January.
The arrests announced yesterday are directly related to Operation Kibera, which busted another network last December that was recruiting young women and sending them to join Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Seven people were arrested in Ceuta, Melilla, Barcelona, and Morocco. Three of those arrested at the time, a man and two young women, were detained in Melilla. VICE News has confirmed that these two women are the sister and girlfriend of the two brothers detained yesterday.
The Guardia Civil spent several hours searching various houses in the neighborhood where the siblings used to live.Some relatives rebuked the police officers, shouting "injustice" and demanding the release of the brothers.
The other two men netted in the anti-terror operation were caught in Sant Vicenç dels Horts, a village in Barcelona Province, and in the town of Sant Feliu de Guíxols in Girona Province.
The alleged terrorist from Sant Vicenç dels Horts is a 36-year-old Moroccan who lives with his five siblings and his parents. The Interior Ministry says that he "corresponded with a facilitator who edited and prolifically disseminated graphic video material designed to recruit new jihadists."
"We don't know anything about him, we're very scared. The authorities didn't tell us where they have taken him to," commented the detainee's aunt told VICE News. "This is total nonsense, this guy has done nothing wrong."
Miloud Ocattaleb, president of the Islamic Cultural Association in Sant Vicenç dels Horts, informed VICE News that the man's family relies on social services because they are all unemployed.
"He didn't have any relation to our Islamic community — in fact, he rarely prayed at the mosque, and extremists are usually active practitioners," Ocattaleb added. "I don't mean to defend him with that statement, I'm just saying that we're talking about an unusual profile for an alleged terrorist."
Authorities described the suspect in Girona as a lone wolf who was radicalized by terrorist propaganda and inspired to spread the material and radicalize others himself.
He was interviewed without revealing his identity in a report aired by the Catalan channel TV3 last year. He remarked at the time that he felt attracted to the ideological stance of organizations like the Islamic State and was persuaded that their arguments are correct, but cautioned that this did not mean that he is a terrorist or a radical, or that he wants to commit an attack against the Spanish government.
The four suspects have been moved to Madrid for pretrial detention.
Spain's Policía Nacional and Interpol estimate there are approximately 39 Spanish citizens fighting alongside terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, most of them under the black flag of the Islamic State.
Follow Medir Plandolit on Twitter: @medirplandolit