The head of National Police counter-terrorist intelligence, Commissioner-General Enrique Baron, told a strategic security conference in Barcelona that it was believed that the self-styled Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb – AQMI – could have acquired such arms in Libya or elsewhere during the Arab Spring last year. He also warned that the group was encouraging attacks against Spain.
Addressing the conference organised by the Foundation for Techniques for Defence and Security, Commissioner Baron told his audience: “The Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb has acquired and used very powerful conventional arms and probably also has non-conventional arms, basically chemical, as a result of the loss of control of arsenals.”
The most likely place where this could have happened was in Libya during the uprising which overthrew the Gaddafi regime, said Commissioner Baron.
In his position as the head of Spanish National Police intelligence the Commissioner-General works closely with MI6, the CIA and other Western European intelligence services.
He told the one-day conference that AQMI, which is now occupying the northern part of Mali along with other fundamentalist groups and local Tuareg tribesmen, posed the greatest terrorist threat against Spain.
It had frequently said that a main aim was to “recover Al Andalus” – the name given to Spain when it was under Moorish occupation in the Middle Ages.
The Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb took its name with the full personal blessing of Osama bin Laden in Dec 2007, when a number of fundamentalist terror groups operating in Arab North-West Africa merged.
Dominating the new organisation is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat – GSPC – which during the Algerian civil war in the 1990s butchered tens of thousands.
Since taking over northern Mali in April it has imposed strict Sharia law in the legendary desert city of Timbuktu and the surrounding region. A young couple were recently stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock and several thieves have had their hands and feet amputated.
Bin Laden frequently singled out Spain referring, in various videos filmed while he was in hiding in Pakistan, to his movement’s desire to “liberate Al Andalus” as Spain was called by its Muslim rulers in the Middle Ages.
The Islamist fanatics showed what they could do in March, 2004, when four commuter trains were bombed almost simultaniously during the morning rush hour killing 191 people only four days before a general election. It remains the worst terrorist outrage on the European mainland.
The Intelligence Commissioner-General has only five other people above him in the National Police including the Director General who is a political appointment, not a police professional.
Aged 52, he has spent much of his career in police intelligence. In 1996 he became head of intelligence for the disputed region of Navarra, bordering the strife torn Basque Country and which has a large Basque minority and is claimed by ETA as a Basque province. Just over two years later he was transferred to the Basque region itself where he headed the fight against the separatist terrorists for six years as police intelligence chief.
After that he was appointed as the National Police chief for Madrid, a post he held until 2008, when he returned to intelligence duties.
Earlier this year he was tipped to be made Spain’s spy master as Director-General of the National Intelligence Centre – Spain’s still military dominated secret service – but in the end was not chosen.
However, he remains one of the country’s leading intelligence officers and is at the forefront of combating Al Qaeda which has made Spain one of its priorities.