At­tack sparks fears of ter­ror­ists among hordes of mi­grants

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARTIN AROSTEGUI

CEUTA, SPAIN | A knife at­tack by an Is­lamist fa­natic at the bor­der cross­ing be­tween Spain and Morocco last week has high­lighted con­cerns about ter­ror­ists in­fil­trat­ing among the hordes of mi­grants who re­lent­lessly press up against the flimsy bar­ri­ers of Europe’s two land bor­ders with Africa.

In a re­cur­ring pat­tern of Is­lamic State-in­spired vi­o­lence seen in Is­rael, Europe and the U.S., a Moroc­can na­tional shout­ing “Al­lahu akhbar” stabbed a Span­ish po­lice of­fi­cer be­fore be­ing over­pow­ered Tues­day along the en­trance to Spain’s North African en­clave of Melilla. Just 240 miles to the west, hun­dreds of mi­grants threat­ened to force their way into Ceuta, Spain’s other hold­ing on Africa’s Mediter­ranean coast.

The pres­sures are in­creas­ing as Madrid and other Euro­pean cap­i­tals strug­gle to deal with a surge in mi­grants flee­ing wars and seek­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity. Over the past two years, the surge has

di­vided the Euro­pean Union, up­ended the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal land­scape in nu­mer­ous coun­tries and sparked harsh crit­i­cism from hu­man rights groups.

Spain’s In­te­rior Min­istry is projecting a three­fold in­crease in the flow of im­mi­grants from Africa this year, with more than 10,750 refugees seek­ing to en­ter the coun­try in the first half of 2017. The of­fice of the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees has pre­dicted a dras­tic rise im­mi­gra­tion to Spain, warn­ing that it could soon face the same pres­sures that have plagued Italy, which has been swamped by 59,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants since Jan­uary.

Span­ish In­te­rior Min­is­ter Juan Ig­na­cio Zoido said manag­ing the migration crush was one of the gov­ern­ment’s top pri­or­i­ties, one made even more ur­gent with the deaths of 49 peo­ple in the Alb­o­ran Sea in early July af­ter their rub­ber boat sank.

But Mr. Zoido added that it was “not the re­spon­si­bil­ity” of the gov­ern­ment in Madrid that im­mi­grants had “de­cided to run away from their home­lands” in “boats that hardly float,” and added that Spain’s ca­pac­ity to wel­come im­mi­grants was lim­ited.

This an­cient city claimed by Spain since the late 17th cen­tury is still sur­rounded by its me­dieval ram­parts is the rem­nant of what was once Span­ish Morocco. Ceuta was be­sieged in 1920 by the Be­douin rebel chief­tain Ab­del Krim, whose na­tive upris­ing routed an en­tire Span­ish army.

To­day, Ceuta and Melilla are again un­der siege as his­tory ap­pears on the verge of re­peat­ing it­self.

A dou­ble wire fence topped by con­certina wire is all that stands be­tween the two Span­ish en­claves cities and re­lent­less waves of sub-Sa­ha­ran and North African mi­grants, seek­ing to es­cape from the des­per­ate poverty, ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence, crim­i­nal bu­reau­cracy and chaos of their re­spec­tive na­tive coun­tries in search of a bet­ter life.

Mi­grants can be seen loi­ter­ing in the hills and val­leys sur­round­ing Ceuta, an­tic­i­pat­ing the chance to climb or break through the wire en­clo­sure cov­er­ing a 9-mile-perime­ter fence.

Many sit atop the 33-foot-high fence for hours and even days at a time. Over the ob­jec­tions of hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions and left­ist mem­bers of par­lia­ment, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment in­stalled ad­di­tional rolls of con­certina wire on top of the fences to dis­cour­age the “fence dwellers.”

Groups of mi­grants also pile into vans known as “kamikazes,” which crash through the bor­der fences and road bar­ri­ers. Once in­side Span­ish ter­ri­tory, the mi­grants hope, author­i­ties will be forced to ac­cept them as refugees. Three such kamikaze strikes have been re­ported this year.

The es­sen­tial com­po­nent of Spain’s wall con­sists of heat-sen­si­tive ther­mal cam­eras in­stalled ev­ery 50 to 100 yards along the fence, mon­i­tored by Spain’s gen­darmerie, the Civil Guard.

Just hours be­fore the knife-wield­ing ex­trem­ist at­tacked the bor­der cross­ing in Melilla on the morn­ing of July 25, the Civil Guard de­tected about 500 mi­grants gath­er­ing near the fence in Ceuta and directed Morocco’s se­cu­rity force, known as the DST, to where the groups were form­ing.

Pulling up in tanks and riot gear, the DST dis­persed the mi­grants with what crit­ics said was the kind of bru­tal­ity that the Moroc­can gov­ern­ment has em­ployed against unau­tho­rized po­lit­i­cal protests.

Work­ing with Morocco

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Span­ish news­pa­per El Pais, Spain’s se­cu­rity ser­vices com­plain that they can’t fully trust the Moroc­can po­lice, lack­ing knowl­edge of the DST’s “mys­te­ri­ous in­ner work­ings.” There is also con­cern that Morocco is us­ing its co­op­er­a­tion on the migration is­sue as lever­age to win con­ces­sions in other ar­eas.

Morocco’s King Mo­hammed de­pends on the EU for in­vest­ment and is ex­pected to con­tinue co­op­er­at­ing on bor­der is­sues. But protests are ris­ing against his rule, which has faced wide­spread com­plaints of cor­rup­tion. Is­lamic ex­trem­ists car­ried out a string of bomb­ings against the tourist in­dus­try in 2002, and the knife-wield­ing at­tacker in Melilla last week also was heard shout­ing of Aluce­mas — a town in Morocco’s tra­di­tion­ally res­tive Rif moun­tain re­gion where po­lice are bat­tling anti-gov­ern­ment protesters.

Ceuta, Melilla and the south­ern tip of Spain — which is within swim­ming dis­tance from the Moroc­can coast — “are start­ing to re­sem­ble the U.S.-Mex­i­can bor­der,” said a se­nior of­fi­cial of the Civil Guard who agreed to speak on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

He and other of­fi­cials say that with­out Morocco’s co­op­er­a­tion, the fences around Ceuta and Melilla would col­lapse and the fleets of refugee boats head­ing for Spain would be “un­stop­pable.”

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, the Euro­pean Union has es­tab­lished an ad­vanced line of defense along the in­te­rior of the Sa­hara, en­com­pass­ing the coun­tries of Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Niger and Al­ge­ria. Spain’s Civil Guard and Ital­ian and French gen­darmerie units have set up op­er­a­tions along the line to stem the mi­grant flow.

Once on Span­ish soil, im­mi­grants typ­i­cally are granted free pas­sage into main­land Europe through the EU’s Schen­gen Agree­ment.

They in­vari­ably sur­ren­der to im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties, who place them in tem­po­rary in­tern­ment camps known by the Span­ish acro­nym CETI, which have been built in Ceuta, Melilla and Spain’s south­ern port city of Al­ge­ci­ras.

Ahmed, a Cameroo­nian walk­ing from Ceuta’s CETI for af­ter­noon prayers at the nearby mosque, re­vealed that he climbed over the fence with hun­dreds of mi­grants who broke through the bor­der in Fe­bru­ary.

He showed his tem­po­rary pass is­sued by the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and said he is be­ing pro­cessed for an EU pass of “free cir­cu­la­tion” that he ex­pected to get in the next three months.

Ali from the Ivory Coast — the refugees are deeply re­luc­tant to give their full names for pub­li­ca­tion — had a sim­i­lar story and said he plans to go to France.

Amin, who came from Al­ge­ria, said he tried to get in with a false pass­port pro­vided by a Mus­lim cleric. De­spite hav­ing com­mit­ted what is clearly a crime un­der in­ter­na­tional law, Ali said he sees no chance that he will be de­ported or sent to prison.

Mr. Zoido, the in­te­rior min­is­ter, has called for “rais­ing the con­scious­ness” of non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions that process the en­try of African im­mi­grants, ar­gu­ing that the or­ga­ni­za­tions do not ap­pre­ci­ate the se­cu­rity prob­lems posed by il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

With an es­ti­mated 45 percent of its pop­u­la­tion now Mus­lim, Ceuta, has some 200 mosques, many of which op­er­ate Is­lamic schools known as madras­sas. Crit­ics say many of the schools led to the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of stu­dents, and po­lice rounded up what they called a ter­ror­ist cell in April.

Span­ish author­i­ties say the group, headed by a mar­ried cou­ple, was plan­ning at­tacks in Ceuta and had links to an Egyp­tian na­tional ar­rested in the Span­ish city of Al­i­cante for aid­ing Is­lamic State mil­i­tants en­ter­ing Europe and for dis­sem­i­nat­ing ex­trem­ist pro­pa­ganda on­line.

Of­fi­cials in the Span­ish In­te­rior Min­istry said author­i­ties are con­stantly break­ing up ter­ror­ist plots and have ar­rested 180 Is­lamic mil­i­tants sus­pected of plan­ning vi­o­lence since 2015. Fears are grow­ing that a ma­jor at­tack like the 2004 triple bomb­ing of Madrid com­muter trains by a Moroc­can ter­ror­ist could oc­cur at any mo­ment.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mi­grants used tools to break open a gate to al­low hun­dreds to en­ter the Span­ish en­clave of Ceuta ear­lier this year. Pres­sures are in­creas­ing on Madrid to deal with the surge.

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