• The problem is so grave that the United States has proposed setting up an intelligence hub at the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona to counter the growing threat.

Nine Islamists accused of planning terrorist attacks aimed at "liberating" Spain for Islam are standing trial in Madrid.

Spanish public prosecutors say the men -- Salafi-Jihadists who belonged to an Islamist cell known as the "Army of the Messiah" (Ansar al-Mahdi) -- sought to "free" the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves in northern Africa, from Spanish rule and thus begin the Islamic re-conquest of Spain.

Salafism is a branch of radical Islam that seeks forcibly to re-establish an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, which Salafists view as a Muslim state that must be reconquered for Islam.

Much of Spain was ruled by Muslim conquerors from 711 and 1492; Salafists believe that the territories the Muslims lost during the Spanish Reconquista still belong to them and that they have a right to return and establish their rule there. This belief is based on the Islamic precept that territories once occupied by Muslims must forever remain under Muslim domination as part of the Waqf [detained or preserved] -- a religious endowment now implicitly owned forever by Allah.

Spanish prosecutors say the jihadist cell operated out of the Darkawia mosque in the El Príncipe Alfonso neighborhood of Ceuta. The ringleader of the group is a Moroccan imam named Mohammed Abdessalam, who prosecutors say "preached the most extreme version of Islam."

The jihadists are accused of plotting a series of bombings in Ceuta, including churches, the city's main port and other parts of the city's infrastructure, in an effort to "duplicate the train bombings that occurred in Madrid on March 11, 2004." The Madrid bombings, which killed 191 people and wounded 1,800, are considered to be one of the worst terrorist attacks in modern European history.

Prosecutors are seeking prison sentences of eight years for each of the suspects, whose trial is taking place at the Spanish High Court (Audiencia Nacional) in Madrid.

The trial comes as a leaked secret report prepared by Spain's National Intelligence Center (CNI) in January warns that Salafi Islamists pose the greatest threat to security in Spain.

The document warns of "alarming symptoms" of the presence in Spain of members and cells of an Islamist group, Takfir wal-Hijra, which subscribes to the "most radical and violent version of Salafi-Jihadism."

Takfir wal-Hijra doctrine promotes "jihad without rules" by accepting non-Muslim practices such as drinking alcohol and drug trafficking as a cover for extremist activities. The group aspires to subjugate the entire planet under a "global caliphate ruled exclusively by Islamic Sharia law," according to CNI. Members of the group are now firmly established in Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga and Valencia, among other Spanish cities.

The CNI document states that police have detected Takfir activities in four mosques in Barcelona and two mosques in Valencia. The mosques are "led by radical imams from Algeria and Morocco" and are centers for "proselytization and recruitment of new members using religious instruction as a decoy."

The CNI report echoes earlier warnings by American and Spanish officials who contend that the autonomous region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain is "a major Mediterranean center for radical Islamists," according to diplomatic cables that were obtained by Wikileaks and published by the Madrid-based El País newspaper in December 2010.

The three cables, all of which are from the US Embassy in Madrid, say that Catalonia has become "a prime base of operations" for Islamic terrorists; and thanks to uncontrolled immigration the region, it now has a "large Muslim population susceptible to jihadist recruitment."

The documents also provide insights into the extent of the links between Islamic terrorists and organized crime in Barcelona, which the cables call a "crossroads of worrisome activities." The problem is so grave that the United States has proposed setting up an intelligence hub at the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona to counter the growing threat.

A five-page cable, dated October 2, 2007, for example, describes the link between mass immigration to Spain during the past decade and the rise of radical Islamism in the country.

The document, which is classified secret and apparently authored by then-Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre, states: "Heavy immigration -- both legal and illegal -- from North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and Southeast Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh) has made Catalonia a magnet for terrorist recruiters. … The Spanish National Police estimates that there may be upwards of 60,000 Pakistanis living in Barcelona and the surrounding area; the vast majority are male, unmarried or unaccompanied, and without legal documentation. There are even more such immigrants from North Africa. … They live on the edges of Spanish society, they do not speak the language, they are often unemployed, and they have very few places to practice their religion with dignity. … Individually, these circumstances would provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment; taken together, the threat is clear."

The cable also describes the "amorphous threat represented by the nexus of terrorism, crime and drug trafficking" in Catalonia, which the document says has become an international magnet for drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, illegal smuggling, prostitution, organized crime and counterfeiting.

"There is little doubt that the autonomous region of Catalonia has become a prime base of operations for terrorist activity. Spanish authorities tell us they fear the threat from these atomized immigrant communities prone to radicalism, but they have very little intelligence on or ability to penetrate these groups," the cable states.

The sad irony is that many of Spain's problems with Salafi-Jihadism are self-inflicted. Catalonia, for example, has a very active separatist movement that seeks the independence of Catalonia from Spain. Catalan separatism is based on the idea that Catalonia is a separate nation with its own unique history, culture and language.

In an effort to promote the Catalan language, Catalonian pro-independence parties for decades have promoted immigration from non-Spanish-speaking countries, especially from Arabic-speaking Muslim countries, in the rather short-sighted belief that these immigrants would learn the Catalan language rather than speak Spanish.

The end result of this disastrous immigration policy is that Catalonia is now the "New Mecca of the Most Radical Islamism," according to the Catalan nationalist party Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC), which is having second thoughts about the wisdom of promoting Muslim immigration as a strategy to achieve Catalan independence.

In any event, Salafi preachers -- who do not believe in democracy and teach that Islamic Sharia law is above Spanish civil law -- are now calling on Muslims who are eligible to vote in Spain to support Catalan separatist parties as a means firmly to establish Islamism in Catalonia.

Abdelwahab Houzi, for example, is a Salafi jihadist preacher in the Catalan city of Lérida, where 29,000 Muslims now make up around 20% of the city's total population.

Houzi, who adheres to the radical Wahhabi sect of Islam, recently said: "Muslims should vote for pro-independence parties, as they need our votes. But what they do not know is that, when they allow us to vote, we will all vote for Islamic parties because we do not believe in left and right. This will make us win local councils and as we begin to accumulate power in the Catalan autonomous region, Islam will begin to be implemented."

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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