Facade details of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
“Non tinc por” (I’m not afraid). This is what the hundreds of people who gathered in Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona shouted spontaneously, a few hours after the terrorist attacks which struck the city and the coastal town of Cambrils. Even before this civil response took place, many residents of the city showed their solidarity, offering care to the victims of the accident.
Many were the anonymous volunteers who, challenging the fright and fear spread by the terrorists, aided the wounded and offered shelter in hotels and private homes to those who were left without a roof in a city under attack. Dozens of translators came on the scene. This was a first response and should not be taken for granted. A response which, faced with the will of the terrorists to provoke an irreparable evil, providing their time and their safety, limited in some way the first contemptible spiral of nihilism. “I was very surprised by the charity and solidarity with which the citizens of Barcelona responded to the attack; there was a great humanity in those gestures,” said the cardinal of Barcelona, Juan José Omella.
Thirteen months after the attack in Nice, which introduced low cost jihadism in Europe, Spain has been hit, just like France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. Although it appears that there are some differences with the preceding attacks. We are not facing jihadism of lone wolves who act in a spontaneous way. According to the first investigations, the attack with the van and the stabbing happened following the failure of plans which implied a greater assault with explosives and butane tanks. Only the incidental explosion which happened in the house located in the village of Alcanar (Tarragona), where a group of young people of Moroccan origins was preparing the attack, made them decide to use the van. Are we faced with an organized unit, similar to those of al-Qaeda, linked to the top ranks of the state in a hierarchical system? Is this a terrorist attack similar to the one endured by Spain on 11th March 2004?
It is still too early to answer many of the questions that have emerged after this attack. According to recent investigations, the 2004 attack’s leader was Amer Azizi, a man directly linked to the top echelons of al-Qaeda. There are, without a doubt, analogies with what happened some days ago. Azizi acted as an agent of radicalization for a group of individuals from Maghreb, in a similar way to today’s case with imam Abdelbaki Es Satty. But the latter does not seem to have links with the top ranks of ISIS and neither seems to be in possession of a financial infrastructure.
In any case, what has changed is the profile of the jihadists: a radically changed profile. Behind the events of Catalonia there are dozens of young people, almost adolescents in some cases, of Moroccan origins, who at first glance appear perfectly integrated. In fact, they were known to the integration services of the Catalan government. The social worker that dealt with these young people is at a loss for words. “What happened to them? And when? What are we doing that allows for these things to happen?”, she wrote.
The jihadists from Ripoll, as already known, fit the prototype of Islamic terrorists arrested in recent years in Spain. The Real Instituto Elcano traced the profile, studying 178 prisoners between 2013 and 2016. They are men, but also women, between 25 and 29 years of age. 40 percent are of Moroccan nationality, while 60 percent are Spanish. Half of these are second generation immigrants. In the last couple of years, the number of jihadist Spanish prisoners has increased by eight times. Around 28 percent reside in Barcelona, as well as in the outskirts of Madrid and the North-African cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the largest refuge of this type of terrorists. Another important statistic is that only 18 percent know about Islam and sharī‘a. They are not people who suffer economic exclusion, they have a similar unemployment rate to the rates of unemployment regarding people of their same age. And, not an insignificant proportion, 20 percent, had been in prison before being arrested.
It is in prison, or through the relationship with a radicalized person, in this case with the imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, that they become radicalized. Not only through the internet. In any case, these facts show that the jihadist profile has changed a great deal: more and more Spanish, without much knowledge of Islam, embrace the ideology of destruction. The Islamic community itself recognizes difficulties in controlling this situation. In these days, Mohamed el-Ghaidouni, president of Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de Cataluña (Union of Islamic Communities of Catalonia), after having condemned the attacks, asked for help “because we are not able to control the extremists alone. We cannot control the radical imams, we need the state to help us, especially in spreading the example of good imams”.
It is impossible to establish an easy link between the appearance of jihadism and the failure of a model of integration of the immigrant population. In fact, Alejandro Portes, global expert in migration issues, has reassured recently that the Spanish model of integration is generally successful and can become a good example for other countries. According to Portes, there is no integration model imposed from above, “in contrast to other European countries which have attempted to impose integration with political models as well; in Spain it was a natural process”.
Ethnic categories have not been identified, 80 percent of immigrants call themselves Spanish. Did this model fail in certain areas of Catalonia? Perhaps. In fact, ghettos of Muslim immigrants, which have not appeared elsewhere, have appeared in places like Can Anglada, Terrasa, Sabadell or Mataró (cities within the province of Barcelona, Ed. Note). There are, according to certain statistics, 70 thousand Muslim students who do not receive lessons on Islam. Catalonia, as well as the Basque country, is one of the most secularized autonomous communities.
Not only in Catalonia, but in the whole of Spain there is a certain difficulty in understanding the value that the religious sphere has in the process of integration. A sociologist of Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, Fernando Vidal, in a speech dedicated to social capital and symbolic capital, highlighted the fact that the same immigrants give a lot of importance to the religious sphere as a necessary dimension for integration. However, only 14 percent of those who work in the social services regard it as an important factor. It is an invisible resource. This fracture between religious identity of the migrant and how specialists of the sector conceive integration is very significant. With good reason, el-Ghaidouni asked for help in order that Islam, truly religious Islam, be considered as a resource to face jihadism; we have already witnessed the poor results of a model of integration inspired by French secularism.
If the religious element is cut off, the transmission of that resource which allows to face nihilism will be interrupted. The necessary education to face terror requires that same gratuitousness that manifested itself in the first hours after the attack, converted into a method and into education.
Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter
For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal