Police in Spain have arrested four people on suspicion of helping to smuggle Daesh militants disguised as refugees into mainland Europe.
The jihadi group had been using a network of Moroccan and Algerian people smugglers to traffic fighters into Europe via Turkey under the guise that they were migrants fleeing the bloody civil war in Syria, Spain’s interior ministry said in a statement.
According to Spanish officials, authorities are investigating whether the four men may have had links to two people smugglers arrested in Austria last year, who are suspected of having connections with some of the terrorists who carried out last November’s Paris attacks.
The suspects in Spain were held in Almeria and Galicia during a series of early morning raids across the country on Monday. The interior ministry said more arrests could not be ruled out.
Police said the men had been in contact with at least one of the Daesh-linked smugglers in Austria both before and after the Paris attacks.
A Guardia Civil spokesperson said: “As a result of the investigation into the Paris attacks, Guardia Civil specialists are trying to determine whether those contacts were linked to the terror cell or if they resulted from the people trafficking network which was responsible for the arrival of almost 200 immigrants in Leros on 3 October last year.”
Authorities in Spain intensified their efforts to identify smugglers helping jihadists enter Europe in the wake of the Paris attacks. Despite not having faced an Islamist-inspired atrocity since Daesh declared its so-called caliphate in 2014, Spain has broken up a number of cells apparently planning assaults. Many of these have been made up of North Africans who managed to slip into the country.
Back in March, then-Nato commander Philip Breedlove warned Congress that the ongoing refugee crises was “masking the movement” of terrorists and criminals into Europe and America. He said at the time that as many as 1,500 foreign fighters who had joined Daesh were returning to their home countries, equipped with knowledge and skills from military training that could help them carry out terror attacks.
Speaking with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in August, Vice President of Bavaria’s domestic intelligence agency Manfred Hauser said Daesh sleeper cells and hit squads were hiding among migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe.
“We have substantial reports that among the refugees there are hit squads. There are hundreds of these reports, some from refugees themselves. We are still following up on these, and we haven’t investigated all of them fully.”
Various security experts have warned that Europe should brace itself for a flood of returning foreign fighters as Daesh’s so-called caliphate in the Iraq and Syria crumbles.