Tuesday, April 12, 2011


There is much consternation amongst the operatives of the Spanish intelligence services as they study a message from Atahadi – an Al Qaeda linked group.

It warns of terror attacks on both Ceuta and Melilla next week – Semana Santa – when Easter processions traditionally take to the streets of Spain’s North African enclaves.

The message is addressed to Muslims living in Ceuta and Melilla and tells them the attacks will be launched in markets and other popular gathering areas. Of course whilst the processions are taking place thousands of people are on the streets participating or watching the spectacle. Atahadi no doubt considers these to be a Christian affront on Islamic soil.

There are several elements to the message that concern the intelligence officers. Al Qaeda and Atahadi messages are usually in Arabic but this one has been posted in Spanish. Why the change and who wrote it for them?

In addition both Spain and Morocco want to know is the threat a device to stir up divisions between both nations over the enclaves – which Morocco claims – or are they a real threat, perhaps both?

Al Qaeda includes in its message allegations that the Moroccan and Spanish secret services have been working together with the objective of promoting a Jewish – Moroccan agenda. In response both Spain and Morocco have accused these Islamic activists of trying to destabilise relations between the two countries.

Back in November I wrote about the potential of Al Qaeda infiltrating and working with the Frente Polisario in the Western Sahara. The then view of a number of think tanks and experts in both the USA and France was this was a possibility, which if it happened would be a drastic and dangerous change in the Maghreb.

At the time Al Qaeda was not a major force in the Maghreb. Its activities were confined to areas of Mali and Mauritania where it has staged a number of kidnappings – perhaps because it is short of funds. Naturally if it were to team up with an armed force such at the Frente Polisario that limited influence would be greatly increased.

However whilst Al Qaeda is still on the sidelines it has been gaining in influence in the Maghreb in recent weeks. Al Qaeda or those sympathetic to it seem to be playing some part in the rebels fight in Libya. In addition it has been reported that Morocco has withdraw troops from the Western Sahara to bolster security at home due to the pro-democracy protests. If that is the case then Al Qaeda could certainly have slipped in to the region.

Morocco takes a very tough stance on Al Qaeda related groups so it is doubtful Atahadi could stage a major attack in Ceuta and Melilla where the Guardia Civil and National Police will also be on a high state of alert. Yet it is also possible so it will be an anxious Easter week for both communities.

Even if the threats prove to be a hoax Atahadi knows it has Spain’s intelligence service worried that it has at least one operative who writes fluent Spanish; it has achieved its objective of creating mistrust in the Christian and Muslim communities and it’s actions will be supported by those Moroccans who want a more active campaign to remove Spain from its enclaves.

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