ISIS Elite Brigade’s Moroccan Network Strikes Europe

More and more tentacles of the Islamic State’s wide-reaching Al-Kharsha Brigade – and its roots in Morocco -are coming to light in the investigations into the terror onslaught that hit Spanish Catalonia and Finnish Turku from Thursday Aug. 17.
On Sunday, Aug. 20, the Moroccan end of the network was being rolled up, with two more arrests of suspects linked to the van attack that killed 13 people in Barcelona. One, a man of 28, who lived in Barcelona for 12 years, was detained in Nador near the Spanish enclave of Melilla. He was alleged to have plotted an attack on the Spanish embassy in Rabat. The second suspect was arrested in the town of Oujda near the Algerian border. He formerly lived in Ripoli, a small town in northwestern Spain, where the Spanish terror conspiracy was hatched.
In Finland, two additional arrests took place on Wednesday, Aug. 23, of suspects connected with the terror attack six days earlier in the southwestern town of Turku, the first ever on Finnish soil. An 18-year old asylum seeker from Morocco stabbed two women to death and injured another six. Five suspects are in custody.
"The suspect's profile is similar to that of several other recent radical Islamist terror attacks that have taken place in Europe," Director Antti Pelttari from the Finnish Security Intelligence Service said of the knife-wielder.
The day after the attacks in Spain and Finland, debkafile revealed for the first time the presence in Morocco of a secret ISIS arm, the Al Kharsha Brigade, which the jihadists group created in Syria for holders of European passports to hit towns on the continent.
Recruits came from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.
Their training was so rigorous that no more than 50 are estimated by our intelligence sources to have finished the course. Drilled into them was the need to carry on with their jihadist mission against harsh odds and to always be ready to die for jihad.
Most of the new Al Kharsha Brigade graduates were sent back to their home countries some months ago and told to wait for orders to perform their missions.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources report that Western intelligence agencies knew as early as May and June that Spain had been targeted for attacks, after US, Spanish and Moroccan authorities uncovered two large terror cells working out of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, the Atlantic costal town of Essaouira, the Spanish enclave of Melilla, and cities in Catalonia.
When the first Moroccan cells were rounded up in May holding a large stock of weapons and explosives, they were found to number many Catalan Muslims. Some were in direct touch with ISIS contacts in Syria; others were on their way there to fight for the Islamists.
On June 22, the CIA passed a warning to Madrid and Barcelona to expect an attack at the popular Catalan town this summer.
The investigations currently underway now are beginning to point to a Paris connection.
The vehicle which slammed into crowds in Cambrils on Friday, Aug. 18, the day after the atrocity on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas Blvd, was caught five days earlier, speeding in the Essonne department west of Paris. It entered the city on Saturday, Aug. 12.
This car was identified as the same Audi A3, which later killed a woman and injured several people in Cambrils. That ramming attack was cut short when police shot dead all five perpetrators. They were all wearing bomb belts which later proved to be fake.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb confirmed this was the same Audi A3. He also said: “The group came to Paris, but it was a quick arrival and departure.”
French Security sources added that the killers “spent the night in a hotel in Paris, then went shopping at a major department store.”
Among the jihadists in this group was Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, who five days later drove the killer van on Barcelona’s packed boulevard
On the run after the event, Younes was tracked down and shot dead on Monday, Aug. 21, outside the Spanish town of Subiras. Like the five Cambrils jihadists, he too wore a fake bomb belt.
Colomb said French and Spanish services were cooperating closely over the attack, but the French side had no knowledge of the cell which he said was exclusively Spanish.
At the same time, the French fear that the Spanish perpetrators may have traveled to Paris in advance of their operations, in order to make contact with an ISIS Al Kharsha cell buried in France, which has yet to be run to ground and may be dangerous.
They can’t otherwise explain why the group drove 1,040km from Barcelona to Paris for one night – any more than other services have been able to run down the source of their plentiful funds.
The clandestine bomb-making factory which blew up on Aug. 16, the day before the Barcelona attack, in another Spanish city, Alcanar, south of Barcelona, offered up some clues, including a direct link to the Islamic State.
Found in the debris was a typical ISIS message. It was entitled: “A brief letter from the soldiers of the Islamic State on the territory of Al Andalous to the crusaders, the sinners, the unjust and the corrupters.” (Al Andalous is the part of Spain ruled by the Moors until 1492).
A body found there was later identified by DNA tests as the imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, ringleader of the Catalan terror offensive. He apparently traveled back and forth between Spain and Morocco unimpeded; and if Moroccan authorities warned their Spanish counterparts about him, it had no effect.
Found on him was a bomb belt – the only real one to be found in the entire episode.
Investigators believe that the imam had originally intended staging his own suicide at the head of a terror bombing spectacular in Barcelona with an epic number of casualties. The accidental explosion at the Alcanar bomb factory put paid to that scheme. It was then hurriedly replaced by the more “modest” vehicular attacks on crowds of holidaymakers at Catalan resort towns.
According to recent estimates, around 1,500 Moroccans are fighting for ISIS, a figure which jumps to 2,500 when Europeans of Moroccan origin are included. Spain is a special case because of its geographic proximity to Morocco, and its status as that country’s other former colonial power (besides France). Tangiers is just a half-hour by ferry from the Spanish ports of Tarifa, Cadiz, or Algeciras, and a one-way ticket costs less than $50.
About a quarter of the nearly 80,000 registered first- or second-generation Moroccan immigrants live in Catalonia or near Barcelona.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Font Resize
Contrast