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The Spanish Connection

December 6, 2010

The following commentary is reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

The Spanish Connection
©  Aurobinda Mahapatra
Source:  Strategic Culture Foundation
December 6, 2010

Under what is called Operation Kampai the nexus of international terrorism worldwide has been further reinforced. The operation carried jointly by the Spanish and Thai police has unraveled a spurious network which has its operations spreading from Spain to Thailand and other parts of Europe and Asia. The network further corroborated the argument that international terrorism is appearing invincible and indomitable, with rising ranks of the terrorists, and with the involvement of more groups from different countries – from Yemen to Pakistan, from Nigeria to Thailand and so on. The arrest of the ringleader in the network in Thailand also brought to picture that the group has not only network office in Barcelona, but also in other European cities like Brussels and London. The group on behalf of one World Islamic Front provided fake passports, fake credit cards, cell phones, etc. to operatives of Al Qaeda, and many other groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) linked to it.

As the international media flashed on 1 December 2010 the photographs of culprits arrested in Barcelona, the picture of this particular international terror network came to surface. The Spanish police arrested seven people including six Pakistani nationals and one Nigerian national in the morning hours of 1st of December. The group was engaged in the task of stealing passports and other crucial items such as credit cards from the tourists visiting Barcelona, and sending them to Thailand for forgery so that they could be used for terrorist purposes. As the Thai police stated, “The group supplies fake passports to many groups, including those involved in terrorism, credit card fraud, human trafficking, weapons trading and illegal immigration.” The Spanish police claimed to have seized nine passports awaiting shipment to Thailand and another that had already been forged, along with a computer and 50 cell phones during the ongoing operation. The Thai police arrested two Pakistanis and one Thai, named Muhammad Athar Butt, Zeeshan Ehsan Butt and Sirikanya Kitbamrung at the border while they were trying to escape to Laos. Athar Butt, also known as Tony, was the head of the operation, and had under his control the offices of Brussels and London. But it is naïve to believe that the network has been busted in its totality. It may be the tip of the iceberg.

On a larger scale the terrorist linkages are with every passing day and with every new revelation appear evidently wide and global. The Madrid train bombings in the year 2004 had killed more than 190 people besides injuring 1,500. In August 2009, Spanish police had arrested a Moroccan suspected of recruiting extremists through internet and helping them to go Pakistan’s Waziristan area, Afghanistan and Chechnya. Earlier in January 2008, the Spanish police had arrested 14 men, accused of being part of a wider suicide plot to target places in continental Europe. The Catalonia region of Spain has recently witnessed much turbulence, owing partly to immigrant communities, and particularly those who became influenced by extreme version of Islam. According to research institute, Elcano, 16 out of 28 anti-terrorist operations carried out since Madrid attacks of 2004 took place in the Catalonia region. Not only Spain but also the whole Europe is increasingly included in the terrorist radar. Few months back, trained militants from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas were arrested, who were trained to strike targets across Europe, particularly Germany.

The name of Al Qaeda and its sister organizations, particularly Pakistan based LeT appeared widely in connection with recent arrests. What is more worrying is that the increasing collusion between these groups in devising common agenda and operations. Iliyas Kashmiri, an Al Qaeda operative with links with LeT, plays a major role in masterminding attacks in Europe. While Lashkar’s major focus is India, in recent years it has increased its operations beyond India and trained terrorists from other regions including Chechnya, Germany, Central Asia, etc. to give concrete shape to its operations. As media highlighted, the network arrested this month also provided necessary instruments such as fake passports to LeT to make its India operation successful. LeT was the main force behind the Mumbai terror attack in 2008, which killed more than 160 people, besides injuring hundreds. The fragile situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan region has further bolstered the LeT spirit to act in an unrestrained manner.

The collusion between forces like the Taliban, LeT and Al Qaeda has proved dangerous and may prove further disastrous in coming years. Perhaps it was incomprehensible a decade back that the terror networks could be so wide and so dangerous in terms of its operation and reach. Of late, it has almost become beyond comprehension to see terror network existing almost everywhere, in every part and corner of the world. The Indian government claimed that in the last few years it has defused about 800 sleeping terror cells on Indian soil itself. It is also common knowledge how part of the money to fund Mumbai terror network was routed through the north Italian town of Brescia. With huge support system including finance from smuggling and drug trafficking, the terrorist forces are playing dangerous games in the world.

But what is more important is the issue of perception among the terrorists as well as non-terrorists. Addition of religion colour made terrorist ploys further deadly, and at times made the differentiation between religious propagation and propagation of violence blurred. Hence, the more dangerous is the brainwashing of the innocent minds to take to guns for some inexplicable reasons, or for reasons not explicable rationally. When the young educated skilled men join the terror groups with a religious extremist zeal and provide guidance and intelligence support, then it becomes difficult on part of the governments to tackle them by mere means of force. The Pune arrests by India in 2009 showed how the young professionals such as doctors and engineers were actively involved in terrorist operations and designs.

The recent arrests in Spain and Thailand may appear trifle in terms of the mammoth networks the terror groups have raised worldwide. This global problem obviously needs a global approach. It may not be prudent enough to raise merely the security system at home of a particular country, and leaving the situation as it is at abroad. This approach lacks one of the crucial components terror groups employ in their operations, which is the penetration of the mind of the uninitiated. While illegal trafficking in arms and passports can be curtailed though even in that it is necessary to have international cooperation, the flow of radical and extremist ideas is difficult to be contained by computers or machines. This brings the most urgent necessity of the time to the fore: a collective approach to tackle the collective menace. The recent revelations just reinforce this argument.


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