Sunday,15 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Sunday,15 July, 2018
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Attacks in Barcelona

This week’s terrorist attacks in the Spanish city of Barcelona may fuel European distrust of the Islamic world, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Attacks in Barcelona
Attacks in Barcelona

One way for Moroccans to make a living in Europe has been petty crime, but most lead perfectly normal lives in Spain and other countries according to local norms and conventions. One of the terrorists of Moroccan descent who attacked crowds in Barcelona last weekend had even worked as a waiter serving wine to Spanish customers, though he was nominally a Muslim.

A large segment of the young Moroccans living in Spain have few prospects, however, and their survival strategies may have been coming to naught. What astounded many Spaniards in the wake of last weekend’s attacks was that the terrorists were mostly Moroccans, and many Spaniards had assumed they were fully integrated into Spanish society, like the Moriscos of yesteryear.

These Moriscos, or “New Christians,” were the descendants of Muslims living in Spain who had adopted Christianity when the Muslims were driven out of Spain in the late Middle Ages, but had been suspected by many Spaniards of remaining Muslim at heart.

The fact that most of last weekend’s attackers were young and Moroccan sheds light on the Spanish authorities’ capacity to accommodate North African youngsters in today’s Spain. Do these evidently estranged and disaffected youngsters feel any allegiance to Spain? Or do they consider themselves to be North Africans first and foremost?

The news that the youngsters had been radicalised by a local imam, or religious preacher, has also been significant since these youngsters would not have dared to think that their imam was not a man of honour.

They would have implicitly trusted in his wisdom and piety, even if, as has been clear, they were criminally misguided. The terrorists had grown up together, and among them were four sets of brothers. Crucially, most of them were not even 25 years old.

 The notion of a father figure, or “gatekeeper,” is fundamental to their mindset and ideology. Perhaps they were acting in accordance with their respect for such a figure rather than as a result of any particular ideology.

The Barcelona terrorist attacks also took place against the backdrop of the Catalonia region’s difficult relations with the Spanish state, not expected to assume the cultural patterns of their North African homeland.

On 21 August, the Spanish police shot and killed Younes Abou Yaaqoub, 22, the driver of the vehicle used in the main attack, near a petrol station in Subirats about 40 km from Barcelona in the Catalonia region of Spain.

Earlier, eight attackers and 15 people of eight different nationalities had been murdered in cold blood. Of the victims, 13 were killed in central Barcelona, one was stabbed by the attacker who stole his car, and one was killed in the neighbouring town of Cambrils. Over 100 people from over 34 nations were injured, 15 critically.

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city and the economic hub of the wealthy region of Catalonia. It is a vibrant city and receives some 10 million tourists a year. Yet, alienated North African youngsters intended to set off bombs in the centre of the city, and nine hours after the main Barcelona attack, five men thought to be members of the same terrorist cell drove into pedestrians in nearby Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six others and wearing fake suicide vests as a way of terrorising bystanders.

All five of the attackers were shot by police as they were carrying out the attack.

The night before the Barcelona attack, an explosion occurred in a house in the Catalan town of Alcanar, killing two additional members of the terrorist cell and destroying the building.

In the wake of last weekend’s attacks questions have arisen about how best to deal with, and how to prevent any similar attacks.

Then there is the puzzle of the mysterious imam. According to Spanish police, a 40-year-old imam, Abdel-Baki Essati, believed to have links with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, was the mastermind behind the terrorist cell in Barcelona and the man behind the youths’ radicalisation.

He arrived in the city a year ago and worked at one of two mosques in Ripoll, a suburb of Barcelona. Abou Yaaqoub, responsible for the main attack, had some kind of relationship with Essati, though the precise relationship between the young men and their mentor has not been revealed.

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