Barcelona Terror Cell Originally Planned to Target Sagrada Familia Cathedral With Massive Truck Bomb

(Wikimedia Commons)

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Aug. 20, 2017:

The terror cell that struck Barcelona on Thursday originally intended to target the city’s famed Sagrada Familia cathedral with a massive truck bomb, as investigators have revealed they’ve discovered 120 gas canisters that are believed to have been intended for the attack.

Meanwhile, the names and stories of the victims killed in the terror attack continue to be revealed, including confirmation earlier today that 7-year-old Australian boy Julian Cadman was among those murdered.

Investigators are focusing on the role of a Moroccan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is believed to be the brains behind the terror cell and served in the mosque attended by the other terror cell members.

Meanwhile, a manhunt for one of the remaining cell members who may have been behind the wheel of the van that drove through the Las Ramblas shopping district has now spread to France.

Regarding the targeting of the Sagrada Familia, The Local reported:

Police believe that the jihadist cell responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 14 dead and more than 100 injured were originally planning something much bigger involving Barcelona’s most emblematic tourist sites.

The terrorists planned to inflict as much carnage as possible by driving vans packed with explosives into three of the city’s busiest tourist areas, according to a report in  Spanish online newspaper El Español on Saturday.

The newspaper cites police sources with information that one of the targets was Gaudi’s as yet unfinished masterpiece, the towering basilica of the Sagrada Familia.

As the most visited monument in Spain attracting more than four million visitors last year, the Catholic site is thronged with tourist crowds with queues of dozens of people snaking across the forecourt to gain entry, while thousands more linger outside to admire its spires.

Reports said that Las Ramblas was the second objective and that the busy port area, which each day welcomes hundreds of visitors disembarking from cruise ships, may have been the third target.

The plans of the terror cell were apparently derailed after the explosion Wednesday of the safe house in Alcanar an hour south of Barcelona, where the terrorists were apparently building the vehicle bombs and where they had stored the gas canisters and the explosive TATP.

One of those killed in that blast is believed to be imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, who has become the one of the primary subjects of the investigation.

El Pais reported earlier today:

Two months ago, Abdelbaki told several acquaintances he was giving up his duties as an imam and moving to Morocco. A new imam was not named – all such changes must be communicated to the regional government – and since then worshippers with the Annour community have been leading their own prayers.

The strange disappearance of the imam coincides with the period during which the terrorist cell began to prepare an attack, or a number of attacks, involving a large explosive device in Barcelona. Although the timeline is not firmly established, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Josep Lluís Trapero, explained the group had spent a “certain length of time” on those preparations […]

The role of the religious leader in the attacks is still to be clarified – not just in terms of the radicalization of cell members but also in terms of logistical preparation. “We can’t compromise evidence or leads, or give unreliable information,” said Mossos d’Esquadra spokesperson Albert Oliva on Saturday, adding that police had carried out nine searches in Ripoll alone that day.

Whether the members of the cell were radicalized by Abdelbaki or in another way, they quickly become ready and able to act. None of them had previous convictions for terrorism crimes nor did they feature on police databases. “They are very young,” stressed Catalan regional police chief Trapero.

Es Satty reportedly had contact with members of the terror cell that conducted the March 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 193 — still the largest Islamic terror attack in modern European history.

French authorities are now on alert as they believe that one of the remaining terror cell members still at large may have crossed over into France.

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Antwerp Terror Arrests Underscore Growing Threat to Europe and America

Belgium mapby Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
June 1, 2016

Last Wednesday, just two years and a day after the deadly terrorist attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, and barely more than two months after the twin attacks on the Brussels airport and metro, Belgian police arrested a group of Muslim youth planning yet another attack, this time in Antwerp. Aiming “to kill as many kufar,” or non-Muslims, as possible, the group is believed to have been planning to bomb Antwerp’s Central Station. The group also is believed to have made previous plans to assassinate right-wing politician Filip Dewinter, the leader of the Vlaams Belang party. Those plans were put on hold, however, in favor of a larger-scale attack.

The suspects were members of a group of radicalized Muslim teens believed to have kept contact with Antwerp native Hicham Chaib, who is now a high-ranking leader of the Islamic State. It was Chaib who informed the public that the March 22 attacks on Belgium’s Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station “were just a taste of what’s to come.” And it is Chaib, the former second-in-command of Shariah4Belgium who left Antwerp for Syria in 2012, who now actively recruits other Antwerp-based youth to join ISIS or to execute terrorist attacks in their homeland.

The four arrests followed a series of raids by Antwerp police into the homes of several suspects in the Borgerhout district. Two suspects have been released, but other members of the group, some arrested previously, remain in custody. All suspects are said to be between the ages of 16 and 19, confirming earlier Dutch reports that European Muslims under the age of 20 are increasingly becoming involved in Islamic State activities and jihadist plots.

According to some accounts, the Antwerp group is comprised of nine youths, at least five of whom are minors. At least two members tried to join the Islamic State in Raqqa in March, but were stopped by officials en route and sent back to Belgium.

With security and counter-terror investigations heightened in Brussels after the March 22 attacks there, it is unsurprising that jihadists might be moving their activities and focus to nearby Antwerp. The city has a long history of Muslim unrest, with riots as early as 2002 and the founding, by Hizballah-linked Lebanese immigrant Dyab Abou Jahjah, of the Arab European League (AEL) in 2000. An organization with pan-Arab aspirations, the AEL aimed to create what Jahjah called a “sharocracy” – a kind of combination of democracy and sharia – that would eventually become European law.

More recently, Antwerp native Fouad Belkacem founded the notorious Sharia4Belgium, alleged to have organized most of the recruiting for ISIS in Belgium, with some outreach to neighboring countries such as France and The Netherlands. And, of the estimated 500 Belgian Muslims who have joined terrorist groups in Syria, more than 100 come from Antwerp.

But the indication of heightened new activity in Antwerp also suggests possible changes in strategy for Europe-based jihadists and recruiters. While French-speaking Brussels maintains close ties to France (several of the terrorists involved in the two attacks in Paris last year were based or were born in Brussels), Flemish-speaking Antwerp holds a stronger relationship to The Nethrlands. Antwerp is also a mere 30 minutes from Rotterdam by high-speed train, offering easy access to Europe’s largest and busiest port. The Rotterdam Port is also the launching point for the vast majority of European exports to America, Europe’s largest external trading partner.

This matters. According to the National Institute of Justice, “Few would dispute that, if terrorists used a cargo container to conceal a weapon of mass destruction and detonated it on arrival at a U.S. port, the impact on global trade and the world economy could be immediate and devastating.” And the New York Times further observed, “The cargo containers arriving on ships from foreign ports offer terrorists a Trojan horse for a devastating attack on the United States. As the Harvard political scientist Graham T. Allison has put it, a nuclear attack is ‘far more likely to arrive in a cargo container than on the tip of a missile.'”

The good news, however, is that The Netherlands’ intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies are well-recognized for their research, acuity, and effectiveness. And Rotterdam takes an especially hard line on Islamic extremism: its Essalam Mosque, Holland’s largest, served as the site for anti-extremist protests. Last year, the mosquedismissed all foreign Arabs from its board of directors. And following the January 2015 attacks in Paris, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Rotterdam’s Muslim mayor, famously invited any Dutch Muslim wishing to join the jihad in Syria to make the trip and never try to return. More, his fierce response to youth who dislike Dutch values was even more direct: he told them to “f*** off.”

Perhaps, then, even as these latest arrests demonstrate just how much Europe’s radical Muslim problem threatens to become America’s radical Muslim problem, we should consider making some of Europe’s more radical solutions America’s solutions, too.

Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning freelance writer based in New York and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with more than 20 years of experience writing for national and international magazines including, Vogue, Esquire (Holland), Town & Country, Art & Auction (where she is a contributing editor), The Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Artnews and others.

How to Dismantle ISIS’ Global Terror HQ in Raqqa

terrorby Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
April 7, 2016

The Islamic State (ISIS)’s de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, has become the new headquarters for global terrorism. It is where plots to sow murder and mayhem across the West are hatched and orchestrated.

According to Western intelligence assessments, ISIS planners in Raqqa came up with the idea for the March suicide bombing attacks at the Brussels airport and a metro station, which killed 35 people.

Raqqa is also where the November suicide bombing and gun attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead, were born.

ISIS’s caliphate in Syria in Iraq is losing territory to its foes. Yet its home base in Raqqa remains very functional, and it continues to pose a real threat to Western security, as well as to the stability of surrounding Middle East states.

Raqqa is where additional mass casualty terrorist attacks are being planned at this very moment. The plots target both Western cities, and capitals of Arab countries ISIS deems as counterfeit Muslim regimes and Western-enabled puppets.

Only a sustained military campaign against Raqqa would signify a serious intention by anti-ISIS coalition members to deal with the source of the current waves of terrorism.

ISIS has already proven it has a long reach into the West, taking advantage of the porous border with Turkey to smuggle battle-hardened, trained, radicalized European volunteers back into the European cities from which they came.

ISIS networks have formed in Syria, and members then stealthily move back into their homes in the European Union, creating sleeper cells that evade the detection of the overwhelmed European security and intelligence agencies.

Today, an estimated 3,000 European jihadist volunteers are in Syria. But that could triple by year’s end, according to an assessment made public by the French government last month. The concern is that a growing number of radicalized youths could answer ISIS’s call to fight for its ranks. This would magnify the threat of organized international terrorism radiating from ISIS-controlled territory by increasing the number of European ISIS volunteers who can return home to form attack cells.

Alongside this developing threat is the potential for lone-wolf attacks, which could be launched by radicalized jihadists who were inspired by ISIS ideology online, without ever leaving their European homes.

ISIS has achieved its immediate goal of forming a territorial entity, complete with its own brutal internal enforcement apparatus, courts, local administrators, and a largely oil-based economic system that supports its jihadist military.

Nevertheless, before all else, ISIS is a concept, and a worldview. It rejects the legitimacy of any state that does not apply the most stringent interpretation of Sharia law. It calls for and plans relentless terrorism against the West, to ‘punish’ it for the medieval crusades and more recent colonial meddling. ISIS also plots more revolutions in Arab lands, to topple governments and replace them with more copies of itself, which would then, in ISIS’s ideal world, join together to form one large caliphate federation.

The coming year will probably be decisive in ISIS’s future as a semi-state, and by the end of 2016, the world will know whether ISIS will survive in its current form, or if it will lose all of its territory, and revert back to its amorphous, network-based existence.

The answer will depend mostly on the determination of the international ISIS-coalition, led by Western powers, to take the fight to the jihadists.

The loss of its territory would represent a severe blow, but even in its stateless form, ISIS will be able to continue its siren calls and propaganda recruitment drives to lure in jihadist volunteers, to replace fighters who fell in battle, and mobilize them to act in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and beyond.

The collapse of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya as sovereign Arab nation-states, and the potential collapse of additional Arab states, means that ISIS as a movement will continue for years to feed off the vacuum formed in the chaotic Middle East.

If ISIS is able to pull off repeat terrorist attacks on European cities in the coming months and years, it is fair to assume that those societies will undergo a transformation, and that the EU government will institute dramatic changes in legislation, tipping the balance away from civil liberties and more towards granting new powers to security forces and intelligence agencies.

Those agencies are engaged in an urgent race against time, aimed at identifying ISIS operatives from the flood of real refugees pouring out of Syria.

The longer European security forces are unable to tell the ISIS operatives apart from the refugees, the bigger the threat their societies will face.

Monitoring and tracking down ISIS-inspired recruits who underwent radicalization without leaving their homes in Europe forms the second key challenge.

This entails stealth tracking of social media to create a cyber intelligence picture that can provide timely alerts about those plotting attacks. Intercepting phone calls, emails, and messaging service communications, and anticipating the cross-border movements of ISIS members mobilizing for an attack will also be crucial.

Such steps will allow threatened states to know when an ISIS operative in Syria is in touch with a recruit in a Western city, and gain information on emerging plots in time to nip them in the bud.

Beefing up border controls, including the introduction of radars and advanced electro-optical sensors on the eastern edge of the European Union, could also occur in the near future.

These steps have been proposed in recent months to European governments by some in Israel, including by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.

Only a multi-state, interdisciplinary effort – one that has been lacking until now – involving firm offense in Syria, and a tight, coordinated defense on the home front, will help stem the threat.

ISIS is not an omnipotent, invulnerable force. Its caliphate is on the retreat, losing ground to multiple foes, and its oil revenues have been cut in half by sustained air strikes on oil facilities.

However, ISIS knows how to adjust rapidly to new circumstances, and it will continue to pose an enormous threat to Western security in the absence of a change of course.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.