A View from the CT Foxhole: Catalan Police - Mossos d'Esquadra with Lluis Paradell Fernandez, Head of the Central Analysis Unit, Intelligence and Counterterrorism Service; Xavier Cortes Camacho, Head of the Counterterrorism Central Area.

AuthorCruickshank, Paul

CTC: Both of you have been heavily involved in counterterrorism efforts for the Catalonian police force, Mossos, during your career. Can you explain the role you play and the role your respective units play in analyzing, identifying, and countering terrorists and violent extremist threats?

Paradell Fernandez: Much of my career has been devoted to these challenges. One thing I'd like to point out at the start is that while we have a strong relationship with other police forces in Spain and organizations such as Europol, we can only speak to the situation in Catalonia.

In 1996, with three colleagues, I started the first analysis unit within our Department of Intelligence and Counterterrorism. I remember we traveled to the U.S. in order to know better how this task of intelligence analysis worked in the U.S. We participated in a meeting hosted by what was called IALEIA, the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts, and we received some advice in how to start a new intelligence unit in a police force--just some basic tips in order to build our own model in Catalonia. This was my starting point dealing with this issue. I worked on issues relating to street gangs between 2002 and 2012 and then in 2012 came back to my previous position as chief of the Central Analysis Unit within the intelligence and counterterrorism service, and that is the position I hold right now. We are divided into three units. One is devoted to operational analysis. A second is devoted to strategic analysis, and the smallest and newest one is devoted to the radicalization processes of all kinds and also focuses on what we call manipulation groups--people who use psychological techniques to modify beliefs.

Cortes: My profile is quite different from Lluis'. I've been working as a police officer for 28 years, and I joined the counterterrorism services in 2018, just after the [August 2017] terrorist attack in Barcelona. (1) I've been running units for 22 years related to organized crime here in Mossos d'Esquadra, so my expertise is as an investigator. The reason why I have been working since 2018 in the counterterrorism services is because my bosses, after the experience of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, asked me to join this service with the idea of trying to transform it into an advanced investigation service. There are two different ways of dealing with terrorism from the perspective of the police forces: One is the classical approach--the pure information, the intelligence, what Lluis is dealing with; and the other one is to investigate. One thing became very clear after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, which is that you need to turn all the information that you develop into legal evidence. If not, you don't have the opportunity to put all those people in jail. That was the reason why I was moved to this service four years ago. So my profile is quite different from Lluis. My duty is to fight the terrorist groups that are acting against the Catalan interest in the field. Obviously, I'm working hand-in-hand with Lluis because he's offering me all the information they have and all the support they can offer to me, and I'm working to obtain the evidence.

Paradell Fernandez: Just to make you aware of the level of cooperation, one of my team members who belongs to the operational analysis unit is embedded in his unit. He sits next to the investigators, not in my office or in the office with other analysts. And this is the change, in the sense of being hand-in-hand in order to work altogether.

Cortes: Exactly. We are part of the same machine.

CTC: How did the threat environment in Barcelona evolve after 9/11 and in the years before the 2017 attack in Barcelona?

Paradell Fernandez: 9/11 underlined to us that Islamist terrorism was a threat to all Western countries and the 2004 Madrid bombings underlined that it was specifically a threat to Spain, and we focused on it at the same level as we'd been dealing with other threats like the ETA threat for many years in Spain.

The Islamic State's declaration of a caliphate in 2014 was a turning point in the sense that it had a powerful effect in spreading their narrative around the world. We have five threat levels. When in September 2014 the Islamic State's Abu Muhammed al-Adnani issued his declaration pushing for attacks in the West, we raised the threat level from 2 to 3. After the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher market in Paris in January 2015, we raised the threat to 4. We have remained at this level since then to stay alert. In the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks, we made changes to let our patrols deploy with different kinds of weapons to respond in case of a similar attack. Fast forward to August 2017, and this meant that when the terrorist cell that had just targeted Barcelona was about to launch a follow-up attack in the village of Cambrils, our patrols were positioned in a very crucial place and well equipped, and it was the place where the attackers, the terrorists, entered the city. This made a difference because they were able to neutralize four of the five people that were in the car. Only one was able to get out of the car and to attack other people, and he was neutralized almost 500 meters later.

CTC: In August 2017, in the space of nine hours, members of a 10-man cell of Islamic State-inspired terrorists from the Catalonian town of Ripoll carried out vehicle and knife attacks in Barcelona and the Catalonian town of Cambrils, killing 16. (2 )The attacks were rapidly improvised after their 'bomb factory' exploded, forcing them to abandon plans to blow up vans containing high amounts of explosive. Many of our readers are fellow counterterrorism practitioners. Can you describe what it was like to respond to and investigate this attack? According to an analysis published in CTC Sentinel, "Considering the lethal resources assembled by the...

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