by Soeren Kern
Calls to reconquer al-Andalus are becoming more frequent and more strident.
"Clearly Spain forms part of the strategic objectives of global jihad. We are not the only ones but we are in their sights." — Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz.
Radical Muslims in Spain have launched a social media campaign aimed at generating support for the jihadist group Islamic State [IS].
The campaign involves posters that include images of famous Spanish landmarks and monuments emblazoned with Arabic slogans such as, "We are all the Islamic State" and "Long Live the Islamic State."
One poster includes an image of the medieval Islamic Aljafería Palace in the Spanish city of Zaragoza and the black flag associated with the IS. Another uses an image of the famous La Concha beach in the Basque city of San Sebastián. Yet another includes an image of the statue of Jesus Christ on Monte Urgull in San Sebastián, with the Arabic words "Al-Andalus Country" instead of "Basque Country."
A tweeted photo of an Islamic State supporter holding the IS black flag of jihad in front of Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza.
Al-Andalus is the Arabic name given to those parts of Spain, Portugal and France that were occupied by Muslim conquerors (also known as the Moors) from 711 to 1492. As the Basque Country is surrounded by mountains, however, the Moors never succeeded in occupying it.
The poster campaign comes after IS jihadists produced a video in which they vow to liberate al-Andalus from non-Muslims and make it part of their new Islamic Caliphate.
The video shows a jihadist speaking in Spanish with a heavy North African accent. He says:
"I say to the entire world as a warning: We are living under the Islamic flag, the Islamic caliphate. We will die for it until we liberate those occupied lands, from Jakarta to Andalusia. And I declare: Spain is the land of our forefathers and we are going to take it back with the power of Allah."Radical Muslims (and many moderate Muslims) believe that all territories Muslims lost during the Christian Reconquista of Spain still belong to the realm of Islam. They claim that Islamic law gives them the right to return there and re-establish Muslim rule.
In recent years, the return of "occupied" Al-Andalus to the fold of Islam has become an obsession for Muslims of all stripes, and calls to reconquer al-Andalus have become more frequent and more strident.
Commenting on the latest video, Spain's Secretary of State for Security, Francisco Martínez, said Spanish police were remaining "vigilant" in the face of a "grave" jihadist threat.
Meanwhile, Moroccan authorities have warned Spanish police that some of the more than 3,000 Moroccan jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq are beginning to return home, and that many of them are likely to attempt to infiltrate the Spanish mainland via the North African Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
The Moroccan Interior Minister, Mohamed Hassad, recently identified 1,221 Moroccan citizens who have joined jihadists groups in Syria and Iraq, as well as another 2,000 ethnic Moroccans who are citizens of other countries, including Spain.
Spanish and Moroccan counter-terrorism forces have stepped-up efforts to break up jihadist cells that have been proliferating in both countries.
On August 14, nine members of a recruitment cell for the IS were arrested in northern Morocco, not far from the North African Spanish exclave of Ceuta.
The arrests were made in the Moroccan cities of Fez, Tétouan and Fnideq, in what the Spanish Interior Ministry said was a joint intelligence operation between Moroccan and Spanish counter-terrorism police.
All the detainees are Moroccan citizens, several of whom made repeated trips to Ceuta to recruit jihadists and raise financial support for the IS.
"The jihadists recruited by the cell received instruction in weapons handling, assembly and placement of explosive devices and car theft, in order to participate in suicide terrorist attacks or to fight in conflict zones," a statement by the Spanish Interior Ministry reported.
Some of those recruited by the cell are believed to have participated in beheadings in Syria and Iraq. Police say they are also examining computers and data storage devices to determine if there were plans to carry out a terror attack on Moroccan soil.
On August 4, a 19-year-old Spanish woman and a 14-year-old Spanish girl were arrested in Melilla just days before they were due to join the jihad in Syria. They are first Spanish females to be prevented from becoming jihadists.
"Both were trying to cross the border to Morocco with the aim of contacting the network that would move them immediately to a conflict zone between Syria and Iraq," the Spanish Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The 19-year-old was released after surrendering her passport. The 14-year-old—who police say appeared "completely convinced" that she was doing the right thing by becoming a jihadist—is currently being held in a juvenile detention center where she has no access to the Internet. The girl's parents said she had recently become radicalized after spending time perusing jihadist websites.
In June, Spanish police in Madrid arrested ten individuals (eight Moroccans, one Argentine and one Bulgarian) on allegations that they were members of an international network that recruited jihadists for the IS.
The ringleader was a 47-year-old Moroccan national named Lahcen Ikassrien, who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001, and released after three-and-a-half years in Guantánamo. In July 2005, the U.S. government handed him over to Spain, where he faced charges of cooperating with al-Qaeda. In October 2006, the Spanish High Court acquitted him on the grounds that no firm evidence existed of his ties to the terrorist group.
Ikassrien, who lives in Madrid, was part of a cell led by Abu Dahdah, a Syrian-born Spaniard sentenced to a 27-year prison term in Spain for his part in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and for being one of the founders of al-Qaeda in Spain. In February 2006, the Spanish Supreme Court reduced the Abu Dahdah's penalty to 12 years because it said that his participation in the 9/11 conspiracy was not proven. He was released in May 2013.
In May, Spanish police broke up a cell in Melilla that allegedly recruited 26 jihadists (24 Moroccans and 2 Spaniards) for al-Qaeda groups fighting in Libya and Mali. All six members of the cell are Spanish citizens. One of them, Benaissa Laghmouchi Baghdadi, is the first Spanish jihadist known to have returned from the fighting in Mali. Police say the cell used social media platforms such as "Sharia4Spain" to recruit jihadists.
In March, police in Spain and Morocco arrested seven suspected jihadists who belonged to cell operating in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Four of the suspects were arrested in Spain and the other three in Morocco. Spanish officials said the cell was one of the largest of its kind in Europe and responsible for recruiting more jihadists than any other network discovered in Spain so far.
The suspected ringleader of the cell is a wheelchair-bound Spanish convert to Islam named Mustafa Maya Amaya. Maya, 51, was born in Brussels after his Spanish parents moved to Belgium in the 1960s to look for work there. After converting to Islam, he changed his given name from Rafael to Mustafa.
Police say Maya—who maintained close ties to jihadist cells in Belgium, France, Indonesia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Syria—is suspected of recruiting dozens of volunteer jihadists on the Internet and, after a careful selection process, sending them to join terrorist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa.
The sting operation was conducted on March 14, just three days after Spain marked the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people and wounded nearly 2,000. Since then, more than 470 suspected Islamic extremists have been arrested in Spain, according to Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz.
"Clearly Spain forms part of the strategic objectives of global jihad," Fernández Díaz said on the eve of the anniversary. "We are not the only ones but we are in their sights."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.
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