Moroccan-born individuals make up nearly half of the terrorists Spain detained over the last seven years.
Rabat – March 11 marked the anniversary of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, also known as 11-M, which Moroccan national Youssef Belhadj masterminded. The attacks killed 193, injured 2,000, and shocked the world.
Fifteen years later, terrorism in Spain has evolved strikingly, according to a new report released Monday, March 11 by the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid. Individuals that Spain has identified as terrorists since 2012 are younger and more educated than their predecessors, the report said, and a rising number are Moroccan.
Elcano’s report analyzed the profiles of 215 terrorists who died or were apprehended in Spain since the 11-M bombings. A turning point in Spanish terrorism surfaces from the data: Mid-2012, the year the conflict in Syria escalated into a civil war and global terrorism’s center of gravity shifted from Al Qaeda to ISIS. After that year, the annual average of terrorist detentions in Spain leapt from 23 in 2009-2011 to 60 in 2012-2018.
The plurality of terrorists in Spain have Moroccan roots, and the number is growing. Nearly half of the terrorists Spain identified over the last seven years were born in Morocco, up 63 percent from the decade before. After Morocco, the most common country of origin for terrorists since 2012 was Spain itself, at 36 percent.
Seven out of 10 of these Moroccan terrorists come from Morocco’s northern Rif region, where Elcano blames heightened poverty and poor state authority for breeding terrorist networks for years. In January, Moroccan authorities dismantled an ISIS cell in the region, arresting three suspects between the ages of 18 and 31.
Of the Spanish nationals identified as terrorists since 2004, the majority (nearly 75 percent) of the individuals were born in Ceuta or Melilla, Spanish autonomous cities bordering the Rif region.
Homegrown Spanish terrorism has also surged since 2012, the report found.
Before 2012, the majority of Spanish residents found to be terrorists were first generation immigrants. Now, most Spanish residents plotting terrorist activity are second generation immigrants, born in the country and radicalized domestically.
The report named cultural tensions and isolation of Muslim immigrant populations as driving forces behind homegrown terror. The phenomenon has haunted other European countries in recent years, prompting EU governments to reorient their anti-terror strategies towards home.
Despite the rising numbers of Moroccan-born terrorists in Spain, the two nations have a strong track record on anti-terrorist cooperation. In September, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said their cooperation “is an example to follow for other countries,” as the globe struggles to confront terrorist movements at home and abroad.