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Spain to push EU leaders for better counter-terrorism coordination
August 25, 2017 / 12:06 PM / a month ago

Spain to push EU leaders for better counter-terrorism coordination

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrives to hold a news conference after cabinet meeting at Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will ask the leaders of France, Italy and Germany to discuss cross-border counter-terrorism at a summit in Paris on Monday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday after dual attacks in Catalonia.

Rajoy praised the police response despite mounting questions over poor communication between different investigators and an informal tip-off from Belgium which failed to prevent Spain’s deadliest attacks in over a decade.

He told a news conference he wanted European Union partners to “analyze the current cooperation mechanisms ... and look at options to boost them and improve them.”

A van plowed into a crowd in Barcelona last week, killing 13 people. Two others were killed during the driver’s getaway and in a separate car and knife attack in the Catalan coastal resort of Cambrils.

The assaults have drawn scrutiny over how intelligence is shared within Europe as well as within Spain, where regional police operate alongside national forces.

Belgium gave police in Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain, a tip-off in 2016 about one of the suspects, Abdelbaki Es Satty, in the cell behind the attacks. But the warning was made through unofficial channels.

Catalan police records turned up nothing linking Es Satty, a Moroccan-born imam who was living in the small Catalan town of Ripoll, to Islamist militancy at the time.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks during a news conference after cabinet meeting at Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Authorities are also investigating possible French links to the cell as some of the attackers visited Paris in the run-up to the assaults.

Of the 12 suspects linked to the attacks, six were shot dead by police and two died in an explosion before the van rampage. Two are in custody on charges of murder and membership of a terrorist organization, and two have been freed on certain conditions.

Rajoy sought to play down the rift between his government and separatist leaders in Catalonia who plan an independence referendum on Oct. 1. that Madrid says would be illegal.

“In the fight against terrorism, we are stronger if we set aside our differences ... Political unity is fundamental,” Rajoy said.

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalonian leader, said in an interview published on Friday that the Spanish government had deliberately underfunded the region’s police force.

“We asked them not to play politics with security ... Unfortunately, the Spanish government had other priorities,” Puigdemont told the Financial Times.

Spain’s King Felipe and politicians from both Madrid and Catalonia plan to attend a demonstration in Barcelona on Saturday.

Residents and local officials in Cambrils, the scene of the second attack last week, were due to march on Friday under the slogan “We are all Cambrils.”

Additional reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Editing by Angus Berwick and Robin Pomeroy

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