Basque Country attackers count on global terror cells

Written by Randal Monthier, CNN The Basque Country

The number of criminal attacks by extremist organizations, such as Kurdish separatists or the radical right, rose last year in the Basque Country, a tourist destination and site of increasing violence, the interior minister of the northern Spanish region has said.

“2017 was once again a year of high violence,” Hernando Fernandez-Giron told reporters in Andalusia. He cited a spike in arsons, illegal stockpiling of firearms and improvised explosives and other attacks in the Basque Country, in which 35 people died last year compared to 24 in 2016.

Five members of Basque nationalist organizations had died this year already, he said.

Violence has declined in the Basque Country since the 1960s, when pockets of separatist violence threatened to tear Spain apart, but the escalating threat of attack has become a major issue in the European Union.

Spain in January agreed to start training around 700 Moroccan security forces to help combat criminal organizations operating in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The decision came after Daesh claimed responsibility for a December car bombing in the Basque city of Alcanar which killed 16 people and injured more than 100 others.

In a report published in February, the Basque Country said social media platforms used by extremists and terrorist groups had “shown a dramatic growth” since 2015. It cited a 936% rise in extremist material on the sites between 2015 and 2017.

“The Basque Country is a national issue, it is a Spanish issue,” Fernandez-Giron said Tuesday. “But we have to do everything possible to fight this international terrorism.”

The government has also placed a moratorium on new construction in rebel-held parts of Syria, which the Basque Country says is “making the situation very difficult” in the region, according to the interior minister.

Fernandez-Giron said the government was also intensifying deportations of convicted criminals as part of its policies to combat extremism and far-right violence.

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