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How a Shadowy Imam Evaded Scrutiny and Forged the Barcelona Cell

Mr. Essati died on Aug. 16, when the explosives he was manufacturing with the help of some of his young recruits blew up in their safe house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona. But his spell over the young men remained so powerful that the plot he put in motion went forward the next day without a bomb, ultimately killing 15 people.

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Abdelbaki Essati’s associations with jihadists reached back more than a decade. Credit Catalonian Police

How Mr. Essati slipped through the checks meant to protect the public from would-be terrorists speaks to the lack of communication between Spanish national and Catalan regional law enforcement and the judiciary.

But it also shows the skill of an experienced terrorist recruiter, one who appears to have been trained in keeping a low profile so that no one would think to look into his background.

If they had, they would have found only that he had been convicted once of drug trafficking. That is an important reason Mr. Essati was able to fly under the radar of Spain’s counterterrorism authorities; he had no charges or convictions for terrorism-related offenses.

Yet Mr. Essati had been known to the Spanish judicial and counterterrorism authorities for at least 10 years, according to Fernando Reinares, the director of the Program on Global Terrorism at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, which keeps an extensive database of Spanish jihadists based on court records and other official sources.

“Abdelbaki Essati had some kind of contacts, dating back a decade ago, with facilitators of the Madrid train bombing network based in Catalonia and, subsequently, while in prison, with a member of that same terrorist network,” Mr. Reinares said.

The Madrid train bombings killed more than 190 people and wounded hundreds more.

In the aftermath of last week’s attacks, regional and national law enforcement authorities and politicians are sniping at each other for failing to cooperate more closely. Their relationship was already strained because of Catalonia’s effort to win independence from Spain.

Source: NYT > World

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