A year ago, the major concern in the Spanish Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla was controlling illegal immigrants, as swarms of Africans attempted to flock into the two cities as an entry point to Europe. Now, however, Spanish authorities are concerned that terrorist violence might impact the two cities, where the authorities are already on heightened alert because of high-profile terrorist trials in Madrid. The recent terrorist incidents in Morocco and Algeria have also heightened this concern.
Last week, Joan Mesquida, the director general of Spain’s security forces and the National Civil Guard police forces, visited Ceuta and Melilla, where he met with the deputy directors of the local Civil Guard units, Civil Guard Director of Operations General Garcia Varela and National Police Commissioner Fernandez Chico. Mesquida told reporters, “Terrorism is a top priority of the government and international terrorism is the priority of priorities,” adding that terrorism “is a threat that we take very seriously, we leave no loose ends, any incident is investigated, any indication which can represent a threat is exhaustively analyzed and we take all precautions by activating the mechanisms of prevention and anticipation” (El Faro Ceuta-Manilla, April 19). Mesquida was at pains to reassure reporters that his visit was planned weeks ago as part of a series of others he is making to headquarters and commands all over Spanish territory and that his trip was unrelated to terrorist attacks in neighboring Morocco and Algeria. Mesquida denied reports that a terrorist allegedly belonging to a cell broken up last week in Casablanca had infiltrated Ceuta (La Razon, April 18). Mesquida told journalists that security outside the two towns had been increased since late March.
The security situation is exacerbated by the fact that Morocco does not recognize Spanish sovereignty over the two towns, where 6,000 Spanish troops are stationed. As a result of earlier immigration problems in 2005, Spanish authorities added a $35 million razor-wire third fence to Melilla’s outskirts, prompting protests from the Moroccan government. Mesquida said that despite differences between Madrid and Rabat, Moroccan security officials were assisting their Spanish colleagues.
On April 17, Spanish Chief Prosecutor Candido Conde-Pumpido warned that, “Islamist terrorism is the greatest threat currently facing Spain.” Spanish authorities have been on heightened alert since February, when the trials of 29 defendants, many of Moroccan and North African origin, accused of the March 11, 2004 train bombings in Madrid, began (AKI, April 18). Adding to Madrid’s concerns are statements made last December by al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who referred to “the tragedy of al-Andalus” (Spain), stating that it and the “occupied cities” of Melilla and Ceuta would be forcibly conquered and become part of a revived Pan-Islamic Caliphate (El Faro Ceuta-Manilla, April 13).
Some politicians in Madrid are skeptical of Mesquida’s assertions of security. The issue will be raised in the Cortes, as Partido Popular legislator Alicia Sanchez Camacho intends to question Mesquida about his border policies to secure the country “in the battle against Islamic terrorism,” stating that the country’s borders “are absolutely uncontrolled” (El Pueblo de Ceuta, April 20; Melilla Hoy, April 20). Indeed, the rising level of violence in North Africa as a result of the merger between the GSPC and al-Qaeda is now seen by the Spanish intelligence services as the greatest risk to Spain (El Pais, April 22).