The Central Counter-Terrorist Unit of the General Information Police Station (CGI) of the National Police carries with it intuition, technique and experience. With them, for reasons of the jihadist universe, a constant typhoon travels that has kept Spain at alert level 4 out of 5 since 2015.
This intelligence unit cultivates decisive moments for national security and, in essence, its agents work so that nothing happens. Simple and complex at the same time. Prevention as a base. It is the Police Station that never sleeps.
EL MUNDO has accessed it from the hand of its head, who makes a fine analysis of the backstage and approaches, as far as he can, the seams of the fight against jihadist terrorism in our country from his main weapon: anticipation. “Work, work and more work,” she summarizes.
Spain has become the country in the world where, each year, the largest number of operations against international jihadist terrorism is carried out. Most are from this Police Station. The head of the unit, however, does not like to dwell on statistics that, by the way, are overwhelming: 175 operations and 395 detainees since 2014.
The main commissioner repels praise, flees from stereotypes and keeps agents away from any pageantry because the team he directs prefers subtlety to spectacularity.
The unit concentrates investigations of all kinds, from people who indoctrinate themselves, who indoctrinate others, who finance and collaborate, to those who are prepared to take action, including those who are integrated.
“Our priority is to anticipate because we face unpredictable behavior. We do not lose a single minute in neutralizing the threat. We are on top of everything », she warns. That “everything” includes the monitoring of money routes, physical and virtual spaces because, as indicated, “most of the investigations stem from monitoring social networks.”
Controlling the Internet is, he points out, “fundamental.” Daesh uses it, among other things, to make global appeals to lone wolves who -given the impossibility of organizing due to police pressure- “encourage them to commit actions with knives and outrages. It is the so-called cheap jihad.
In Spain it is not possible to speak of zero risk, but on a daily basis the unit tracks down jihadism and is activated in the face of any suspicion. Its main curator lives attached to these analyses, which he follows up to the minute. It is clear that jihadism is polyhedral, elastic and urgent. And based on this, the unit works. The casuistry is very varied.
The Police Station has detained highly dangerous returnees, as happened in 2020, when the agents arrested the son of the Al Qaeda spokesman in Almería when the attack on the Twin Towers was committed. He had fought and on the way back he was intercepted. He entered in a boat and in Spain he was passing through. He arrived with false documentation and had rented an apartment in Almería for a month. The National Intelligence Center (CNI) collaborated in the operation.
A year earlier, in 2019, the unit found a young man of Moroccan origin who had explosive precursors in his home. He was ready to take the plunge, to take action.
Especially graphic was also the operation in which another man was arrested who had a poison manual and went to work next to the Canal de Isabel II. Again, the anticipation. “Stopping is the only way to prevent,” ditch.
The present of jihadism in Spain is outlined by the head of the unit in a blunt manner: “Most of the operations are arrests of people and groups that are in the process of radicalization.”
But what happens when a trade blows up? The unit steals hours from the clock. The agents have three days to fasten the actions and analyze the equipment to present them in court. They are shifts of a whole day. 72 hours without rest. This is how the team spent a Christmas.
As a curiosity, the chief commissioner reveals the reason why jihadists send messages on networks in Spanish. “Spain is good for jihad to attract the South American world, which is why they launch messages in our language.” There have been, in fact, bilateral operations although, as he indicates, they have been few.
The Central Counter-Terrorist Unit of the General Information Police Station works from the point of view of intelligence and that of the judicial police and, although jihadism is its best-known aspect, they also handle matters of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Despite the importance of his work -his investigations are one of the most persecuted by the media-, the principle by which the unit is governed leads its agents to flee from the spotlight. “Work is not the success of anyone in particular. It is from the General Information Police Station”, concludes the main commissioner.
The history of jihadism in Spain did not begin on 11-M. It started in 1985 in Torrejón de Ardoz in what is probably the most forgotten attack. The head of the unit is very aware of it. He quickly rescues him at the beginning of the encounter to illustrate the evolution of this type of terrorism.
That first attack by Al Qaeda on national territory left 18 dead and 82 wounded and took place in a bar frequented by Americans due to its proximity to the US base. The backbone of the Police in the fight against this form of terrorism had to change its strategy in 2004, with the 11-M attacks, after focusing on ETA for decades. The transfer was not traumatic.
“We knew the terrain of terrorism. We just had to change the way we work, migrate the procedures we used. Agents learn by doing. We learn by running after terrorists.” This path, continues the chief commissioner, “was marked by the evolution of jihad itself and it was the General Information Commissariat itself, with its chiefs at the helm, which decided that we had to change in the face of the new horizon before us.”
The team is a perfect gear that brings together investigators, 80 translators, undercover agents and confidants, the latter a key figure for many of the investigations to come to fruition. Watch without being seen.
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